Thursday 21 September 2017

'Dubs' hurling door always open for Con' - Cunningham

Con O'Callaghan: return to small ball unlikely
Con O'Callaghan: return to small ball unlikely

Michael Verney

The Dublin hurlers' door is always open for Con O'Callaghan but Ger Cunningham isn't expecting him to come knocking it down any time soon due to the lure of Jim Gavin's all-conquering footballers.

O'Callaghan (right) has been shooting the lights out for Leinster Club SHC champions Cuala, hitting 6-10 from play in three games, but after already earning championship minutes for the footballers in 2016, a switch to the small ball is unlikely.

His older brother Cian is a mainstay of the Dublin hurling defence but losing some of the most talented hurlers in the county, players of the calibre of Cormac Costello, Tomás Brady and Ciarán Kilkenny, to football is something Cunningham has had to get used to in the past three years.

It's something he feels hurling silverware could change, however. "When people have to make the choice, they've gone towards football. Hopefully in the future we can change that with a bit of success and that if anyone has a choice to make they'll give hurling serious consideration," he said.

"It goes without saying I'd love to have a player like Con available to us. The time he was in with us around 15 months ago, he had just come out of minor. He always said to us football was his first love.

"You'd love to have him there. We wish him the best, but at the same time he knows the door is always open to us if he wants to play hurling. I think his focus is going to be on football for the next while."

Despite pessimism in many hurling quarters of the capital and vocal criticism from former players Michael Carton and Conal Keaney, Cunningham is positive about the future and "pleasantly surprised" by the impact made by fresh faces like Donal Burke and Cian O'Sullivan in the Walsh Cup.

The former Cork goalkeeper noted that "evolution happens in every team" but in spite of Leinster success at minor and U-21 level last season he acknowledges that his youthful squad, minus the Cuala contingent, are under pressure to maintain Division 1A league status.

"We looked at the minors, the U-21s, and the club championship matches and they were the players we decided to move forward with. It is a young team, we have a tough league campaign," he said.

"We won't get any tougher than playing Tipp first and then if we can survive Division 1, it will be a really great test because of the five matches that we have. Long-term, it's great for Dublin to see Cuala playing in an All-Ireland semi-final and hopefully going on to participate in an All-Ireland final and have a great chance to win it.

"But in the short-term it affects us from the point of view that we don't have access or availability. They'll work away and when they come back it'll be a boost for us in April, hopefully after them winning an All-Ireland Club Championship. That's a win-win for Dublin."

Irish Independent

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