Monday 20 November 2017

'It was Con's dream to play for the footballers'

Despite being hot favourites for Saturday’s All-Ireland club semi-final, Cian O’Callaghan is taking nothing for granted given Dublin clubs’ lack of ‘tradition’. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Despite being hot favourites for Saturday’s All-Ireland club semi-final, Cian O’Callaghan is taking nothing for granted given Dublin clubs’ lack of ‘tradition’. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

At the media launch of the Interprovincial series late last year, Anthony Daly was holding court and talk soon turned to Dublin hurling, and in particular, Con O'Callaghan.

O'Callaghan had just slashed and burned his way through the best in the Leinster club game and helped Cuala to a breakthrough provincial title. In essence he had shown the sort of touch in front of goal that Dublin had been missing.

During his tenure in the capital, Daly saw several talented hurlers opt to play football, just as O'Callaghan has done.

And Daly lamented O'Callaghan's loss to Dublin hurling, something that was magnified by the fact that his older brother Cian was an established member of the hurling panel.

Even with head start, the hurlers lost another prospect to the footballers.

"Con is very talented," Daly said. "I saw him play football and he's a bit of a boy wonder, but he's a brilliant hurler as well. If it was me, I'd be getting on to Ciano to have a good lot of words in his ear at home - 'are you talking to the young fella, are you?'

"But, sure, look, he probably has his mind made up that that's the route. He went that way last year so he's probably not for turning, and obviously the football is flying at the moment."

While it looks unusual to have two brothers preferring different codes, the elder O'Callaghan isn't surprised the pair have gone in opposite directions.

Football and hurling were pursued with equal vigour for as long as possible but as they headed for minor, they chose different routes.

"In my house I have been known more as a hurler since I was about U-16 and when Con got to under 16 he became known as a footballer," Cian explains.

"Up until that point we would have both been known as dual players. He kept that going with the Dublin minors, he played both.

"I'd say his dream since he was about 13 or 14 was to play for the Dublin senior footballers.

"He is doing that now so I'm not going to be able to tell him, it isn't up to me to make that decision. Whatever he thinks he should do, he should do."

Con faces a busy schedule in the coming days. On Saturday, Cuala face Derry superclub Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland club SHC semi-final in Armagh. Then he'll have just a few days to prepare for the Leinster U-21 FC clash with either Meath or Westmeath the following Wednesday night.

Such is the lot of talented young men, but all eggs are in the club basket just now.

Cuala go into Saturday's game as clear favourites. And should they win, they'll be the first club from Dublin to reach a hurling decider on St Patrick's Day.

Strength

Cian O'Callaghan believes their progress is another sign of the growing strength of the club game in the capital.

"Crumlin won their Leinster title in (1979), so that is too long for a Dublin team not to have won it," he says.

"Ballyboden started it with their five in a row team. They probably were unlucky not to get a Leinster, but in the last few years every team that has come out of Dublin has been really strong.

"You can see the improvements that have come through all of the hard work that is going on underage and within the clubs.

"When I came on the scene Ballyboden were completely dominant. There was no team really putting it up to them, whereas now you have Jude's, Crokes, Ballyboden, Lucan, O'Toole's, ourselves, so the strength in Dublin club hurling has improved 10-fold even in the past three or four years."

And while his side have been installed as 1/8 favourites to secure a spot in the decider, O'Callaghan warns that the Ulster side have serious pedigree.

"We know they are a good team. Any team that can beat Loughgiel. . . Loughgiel won in the All-Ireland title in (2012)," he says.

"Any team that has beaten an All-Ireland winning team is going to be good, and teams coming out of Ulster have had such a good record in the competition, whereas teams coming from Dublin have no tradition.

"So we know we are going to be up against a really good team and they have a lot of dual players so they are going to be very strong."

The O'Callaghan boys have chosen different paths. But on Saturday they'll be very much on the one road.

Irish Independent

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