Monday 19 November 2018

All-conquering Con defies convention

Con O’Callaghan scores his goal for Dublin in the All-Ireland SFC final against Mayo. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Con O’Callaghan scores his goal for Dublin in the All-Ireland SFC final against Mayo. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

'No matter how good you are, you're going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you're going to win one-third of your games. It's the other third that makes the difference." - Major League Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Tommy Lasorda.

If the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year award is about acknowledging consistent excellence across a calendar year in sport, then it's next to impossible to look past the claims of Dublin tyro Con O'Callaghan for the 2017 gong.

O'Callaghan raising the Sam Maguire Cup. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
O'Callaghan raising the Sam Maguire Cup. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

By any metric, the Cuala youngster has enjoyed an extraordinary year - perhaps the most memorable of any GAA player in history.

To give some context to the success he has enjoyed these past 12 months, it is probably best put it like this: It's more taxing to count the All-Ireland medals he won in 2017 (three) rather than the individual games he lost (one).

And, don't forget, his achievements have come in two different codes.

The only blot on O'Callaghan's copybook came in the Dublin SFC quarter-final when St Jude's beat Cuala. Otherwise, any team O'Callaghan has been part of has gone all the way in every competition they have been in.

O'Callaghan in against for Cuala against Paul Flanagan of Ballyea during the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC final. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
O'Callaghan in against for Cuala against Paul Flanagan of Ballyea during the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC final. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

A glance at his year shows that he won three All-Ireland medals across hurling and football. The record books also show that he has been a key cog in each of those wins.

Smashed

The first one came in March when he was part of a history-making Cuala side.

They smashed through their glass ceiling to become the first club from Dublin to win an All-Ireland club SHC title when seeing off Clare's Ballyea on St Patrick's Day.

The following month, he was part of the Dessie Farrell-trained side that were too strong for Galway in the last All-Ireland U-21 competition.

Then, in September, he was a key man in Dublin's successful three in-a-row bid.

That he forced his way into Jim Gavin's plans despite missing much of their season first through club commitments and then U-21 duty is a testament to his talent.

And he showed why he was included in the Dublin forwards ahead of once-in-a-generation players like Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan when he tore through the heart of the Mayo defence to grab a crucial goal in September's showpiece.

Goals are part of his make-up. In the Irish Independent last month, Colm Keys pointed out the young man's ability to raise green flags, writing: "Rewind back to the first Sunday in November 2016 when Cuala played Borris-in-Ossory/Kilcotton in a Leinster club hurling quarter-final and he announced himself with four goals, he has played in 23 competitive games (10 with Cuala, five with Dublin U-21s, six with Dublin seniors, and two with Cuala senior footballers) and has scored a stunning 21 goals.

"Eight of the 21 goals have come in the 13 football games he has played (his All-Ireland U-21 semi-final against Donegal in April lasted just three minutes because of a black card so maybe that should be scratched), making it 13 for Cuala in their 10-game stretch either side of St Patrick's Day last."

"Judge that by any standards and it is a phenomenal return for someone who, for five months of the year, in the best of the weather, doesn't hurl competitively at all."

After that article was published, O'Callaghan played for Cuala against Wexford champions St Martin's in a Leinster club SHC semi-final. Almost inevitably, he grabbed a goal as part of a 1-3 haul.

In all, he has played 24 games in the last 12 months and won 23 of those. Even Cuala's defeat in the group stage of the Dublin championship came in his absence.

And in that period he has won the following: Leinster and All-Ireland club SHC, Leinster and All-Ireland U21 FC medal, Leinster and All-Ireland SFC.

He has also helped Cuala successfully defend their Dublin title and tomorrow they'll face Offaly's Kilcormac/Killoughey in a bid to claim the provincial club title for the second year on the bounce.

It's a remarkable run. And, with Dublin's leading the betting to make it four-in-a-row, there could be even more success around the corner.

That's for another day. But, as far as 2017 goes, no one has done it better.

Tommy Losorda would have a hard time reconciling a record like O'Callaghan's.

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