Tuesday 20 August 2019

The King meets The Prince: Dublin and Tyrone marquee forwards an intriguing subplot in Omagh showdown

Con O'Callaghan and (inset) Cathal McShane
Con O'Callaghan and (inset) Cathal McShane

Frank Roche

CON O'CALLAGHAN only scored two points against Roscommon a fortnight ago but, for the watching Paul Caffrey, it marked a new high in a career of endless possibilities.

"I still believe that we're only beginning to see the best of Con O'Callaghan," said the former Dublin boss, as he reflected on the attacking riches available to Jim Gavin and argued that this is a "once-off", not-to-be-repeated generation.

"He has two wonder goals on his CV," added Pillar, alluding to his sublime solo efforts against Tyrone and Mayo in 2017, "but his first half the last day was the best we've seen from him. He is going to get better and better. He is an unreal talent."

O'Callaghan was replaced after 52 minutes against Roscommon, but don't mistake that for some form of managerial punishment - more a case of ‘job done' as Gavin opted to rest one of his thoroughbreds for the bigger battles ahead.

Earlier, O'Callaghan had tormented the Rossies with his ball-winning prowess (reflective of his bullish strength but belying his 5'11" frame), his boundless energy and ambition. He would not have been flattered by a two-goal return: one daisy-cutter crashed off the Hill 16 upright, another goal chance zoomed over.

Yet the soaring apex of his highlights reel was an acrobatic catch ahead of Seán Mullooly that led to an awkward landing ... O'Callaghan picked himself up in the same movement and effortlessly clipped over.

Read more here:

Alan Brogan: 'Remembering the night the tide turned and the making of this magnificent Dublin squad' Presence of Rochford adds spice to bitter recent rivalry as Donegal and Mayo lock horns again

Whether the Cuala man features in Sunday's Super 8s ‘dead rubber' against Tyrone in Omagh is anyone's guess, given the looming proximity of a must-win semi-final. What's beyond question is that when Dublin need to win, O'Callaghan will be there.

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

He has become one of Gavin's indispensables; and while he has spent a sizeable chunk of his Dublin career in the half-forward line, perhaps it's no surprise that his growing influence this summer has coincided with a switch back to the inside line.

Which brings us to Tyrone's new go-to man ...

CATHAL McSHANE announced himself on the national stage in 2015, scoring the goal from midfield that propelled Tyrone to All-Ireland U21 glory in a controversial decider with Tipperary.

Senior elevation soon followed: McShane was parachuted in at full-forward for his SFC baptism against Donegal. Ballybofey in May was not the debut he would have dreamed of; scoreless and subbed off first in a three-point defeat.

But that start was never likely to be the end of life under Mickey Harte. There was raw talent, waiting to be tapped.

As part of Tyrone's much-debated tactical set-up, McShane moved through a variety of middle-eight positions - wing-forward in 2016 as they eventually fell to Mayo, fleeting cameo involvement in 2017, operating around midfield for the business end of last year's run to the All-Ireland final.

It shouldn't be overlooked that, but for his equalising point in the sixth minute of injury-time, forcing extra-time in Navan, that back door odyssey would never have happened.

Yet - for McShane and his county - the key career move happened earlier this spring when he was entrusted with the job of Tyrone target man.

It came about after an alarmingly toothless start to the league; in round three against Roscommon, facing a stiff deficit at a wind-lashed Hyde Park, McShane's fisted goal helped to secure a precious first point.

Yet it was from the next game against Monaghan, when Mattie Donnelly joined McShane as part of a two-man inside arsenal and Tyrone embraced a more direct kicking style, that their season took off.

McShane was sensational when Tyrone's new strategy unhinged Dublin in Croke Park last March. His 1-4 haul included two attacking marks - proof of his ball-winning ability and notably stronger physique.

Yet, even with the mark parked for summer, he has continued to flourish. Even as Tyrone unravelled against Donegal, he was still out in front, winning possession and creating for others. And even as Harte subsequently reverted to his old Plan A, predicated on defensive protection and leaving McShane often as the sole inside outlet, his stats have remained sky-high.

Ahead of Sunday's joust with Dublin, McShane is summer's top scorer with an eight-match total of 3-42 (3-19 from play).

The new Red Hand prince has looked every inch the All Star-elect. But then, as Dublin have coasted to the last-four, so too has King Con. From five games he has tallied 2-9 but even that doesn't fully convey his pivotal importance.

He is now 23; ditto McShane. Two young predators with many more worlds to conquer.

Online Editors

The Throw-In: Tipp throw off the shackles while Kilkenny’s soul-searching begins

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport