Tuesday 6 December 2016

Meet the Kerryman who is blazing a trail with Cuala hurlers

Michael Verney

Published 25/11/2015 | 02:30

O’Connell decided the three-and-a-half-hour each-way commute from Dublin was becoming counter-productive.
O’Connell decided the three-and-a-half-hour each-way commute from Dublin was becoming counter-productive.

Have you heard the one about the Kerry man blazing a trail on Dublin’s hurling fields? Only 12 months since transferring to Cuala, Darragh O’Connell now bids to cap a phenomenal year in Sunday’s Leinster club final.

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After representing Kerry’s for five years, picking up a Christy Ring Cup medal in 2011, O’Connell decided the three-and-a-half-hour each-way commute from Dublin was becoming counter-productive.

The 24-year-old Gaelscoil teacher made the permanent move to the Dalkey side, who he had trained with regularly, and helped bridge a 21-year gap for county honours with some excellent midfield displays.

Such performances even earned him a spring call-up to the Dublin squad, starting the Leinster semi-final replay defeat to Galway, and only Oulart-The Ballagh stand between him and a dream season.

“I certainly didn’t think this time last year I’d be sitting here talking about a Leinster club final,” he said. “Kerry was where I grew up, Abbeydorney is where it all started.

“But if you are sitting into a car every evening to go home, you are not getting 100pc out of yourself. You’re not recovering properly and not preparing properly for games.

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“I made my decision and I have no regrets now. There is certainly no what ifs there. It’s been a fantastic year. My sole aim was to make Cuala’s first 15 for championship. Then Ger Cunningham gave me a call.”

He has become accustomed to the slagging associated with being a hurler from Kerry but he is not the only ‘outsider’ in the Cuala dressing room which includes Tipperary’s Shane Stapleton, Kilkenny pair Cian Waldren and Nicky Kenny as well as Galway’s Barry Connolly.

Such strength in depth means that despite their inexperience, Mattie Kenny’s side are favourites to add further final heartbreak on their Wexford opponents.

They showed no signs of a county final hangover when dismantling Coolderry by 14 points, and followed up with a strong performance against Kilkenny champions Clara. Such progress delights O’Connell.

“Our aim was to win the county title and we achieved that goal,” he said. “Then we sat down the next day to re-evaluate where we were going and set new goals. Leinster was a brand new experience for us.”

Having come from a so-called weaker county, O’Connell is a prime example that such players can flourish at the top level.

He said: “I have got a couple of comments, ‘You’re representing us like’ but all the lads in Kerry respected my decision and backed me. I was born and bred in Kerry so a certain part of me still feels like I’m representing them too.”

Dublin’s sole Leinster club title came back in 1979 and Sunday is culmination of a long journey for O’Connell – in more ways than one.

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