Saturday 21 July 2018

'King Con' eyes next prize as he takes demands all in his stride

Con O’Callaghan celebrates at the final whistle after UCD’s victory over NUI Galway in the Sigerson Cup final at Santry Avenue. Photo: Sportsfile
Con O’Callaghan celebrates at the final whistle after UCD’s victory over NUI Galway in the Sigerson Cup final at Santry Avenue. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

"Keep them coming, keep them coming," Con O'Callaghan says with a smile when asked what it's like to add the Sigerson Cup to his ever-growing trophy cabinet.

Saturday was just another day in a year without compare for the Dublin attacker, who has remarkably lost just one game in the past 12 months - Cuala's Dublin SFC quarter-final defeat to St Jude's in September.

It's been an astonishing run with All-Ireland club SHC honours, a Leinster U-21FC, All-Ireland U-21FC, Leinster SFC, All-Ireland SFC, Dublin SHC and Leinster club SHC accumulated since the outset of 2017 in one of the most glittering years for any individual GAA player.

Combine that with an All-Star award and the Young Footballer of the Year accolade following Dublin's three-in-a-row and it would be easy to see how O'Callaghan could rest on his laurels and let complacency set in for 2018.

The opposite is the case, however, with the 21-year-old already helping Cuala reach another All-Ireland club final with a four-point haul 10 days ago against Liam Mellows and earning praise from Kilkenny legend Tommy Walsh, who described him as "the best hurler in Ireland right now" late last year despite only picking up the hurl sporadically as a result of his football commitments.

When a window of opportunity opened before St Patrick's Day, the third year UCD commerce student had no hesitation to switch codes and play an integral part in their 100-minute marathon defeat of UUJ in Inniskeen last Wednesday before kicking a crucial point as the Dublin college edged out NUI Galway in a belter at the weekend.

Before sloping off the pitch quietly among the jubilation, O'Callaghan agreed to afford the small media party "a minute" and he was good to his word (it was 64 seconds long).

It's not ego, he just likes the minimum of fuss about his achievements and is quick to deflect praise in other directions.

For a young man, his ability to take success in his stride while still keeping his feet on the ground and looking to the future - the next game and the next piece of silverware - is remarkable.

"You don't really think over that stuff (trophies), you just play the games that are in front of you, you know," he says.

"It's been a pretty mad week, it was a sweet win now. I'm just delighted to get one point over them in the end so happy out. I suppose I'll enjoy tonight and then worry about that (the club final against Na Piarsaigh) over the coming weeks and get back to work."

Mercurial

The mercurial forward had played no part with John Divilly's side until the last four - acting as water carrier in their quarter-final win against city rivals DCU - but he was "more than happy to help out" when the chance arose, to the delight of his manager.

"Con has been around all year, he's been there at training sessions, he's been togging, doing bits of kicks. There was never any pressure on Con, or any player. Like, we can't force or ask any player to play football, the club comes first. It always does," Divilly says.

"He knew that if there was a little window there that he would get game time with us if he wanted. So we're delighted he did. And I'm delighted for him personally. He has a lot going on in his life but he handles it better than I would anyways."

As Divilly suggests, the Cuala dual star's ability to deal with the trappings of success is nearly as impressive as his capacity to keep a host of masters happy. But when you fire 15-63 in 22 championship games in a year, as O'Callaghan did in 2017, it's hard for managers to be anything but ecstatic with your contributions.

Given the nickname of 'The Answer' by many of his club's senior players due to his obvious star quality growing up, his astounding ability to remain injury-free combined with his gift of finding the back of the onion bag makes him one of the most exciting players in either code. Despite the fanfare, he remains humble and grounded.

"You don't normally get the chance to play with lads from different counties as you're usually playing against them so it's a bit different, it's a bit special playing with those lads. They really welcome you in and it was very enjoyable," O'Callaghan said of his latest triumph.

If the mantra is start as you mean to go on, 'King Con' has already set the tone for further greatness. No defender will sleep well at that thought.

Irish Independent

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