Monday 17 June 2019

'We have to strike again while the iron is hot'

Cian O’Callaghan insists Cuala are as hungry as ever ahead of bid to retain their All-Ireland club crown

Cian O’Callaghan is looking forward to being back in Croke Park tomorrow as Cuala defend their AIB All-Ireland title. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian O’Callaghan is looking forward to being back in Croke Park tomorrow as Cuala defend their AIB All-Ireland title. Photo: Sportsfile

Sam Wheeler

Nena (99 Red Balloons), Anita Ward (Ring My Bell), Carl Douglas (Kung Fu Fighting), and Chumbawamba (Tubthumping). Remember those pop-music greats?

No? Well, not many do and Cuala's Cian O'Callaghan is determined that the reigning Dublin, Leinster and All-Ireland champions don't end up being put in the same category as the above one-hit wonders.

"You don't want to be known as the team that won a flukey All-Ireland, or a flukey anything," says the Dublin defender.

But let's face it - there's little danger of that. In the last two-and-a-half years, Cuala have won three Dublin titles, two Leinster championships and a maiden All-Ireland; and tomorrow they face Na Piarsaigh in the final of the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC at Croke Park. You can't fluke six major titles.

Cuala's 2015 Dublin success ended a 21-year wait for county glory, and whatever appetite built up during those lean years has not been sated by the trophy glut that followed.

"Our hunger is massive this year. It's just as big as last year, if not bigger," says O'Callaghan.

"We've been lucky that we've got things right in the last three years after a long barren stretch. But we want to keep going into the next few years.


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"This Cuala team might not be together again. Lads get married, lads move away, lads get different jobs. That's one of the big things that's driving us on, that while we're in the present, we try and win as much as we can.

"It is a big achievement to get back to Croke Park, especially if you win. But the key word there is 'win'. Not too many clubs can do it. We have to strike while the iron is hot."

Maintaining the desire and focus can be a problem even for teams as talent-laden as Cuala and Na Piarsaigh, both of whom have 10 county panellists in their ranks.

Na Piarsaigh won their first Tommy Moore Cup in 2016 but their defence of their All-Ireland, Munster and Limerick titles was effectively over within two rounds of their county championship; they were unfortunate to come up against two fellow trophy contenders so soon after their Croke Park heroics.

Cuala lost their Dublin opener last year but won their next two games to squeeze into the quarter-finals. O'Callaghan admits that it did take a while to get over their Croke Park triumph.

"It definitely does take a bit of time," he says. "You're in a bubble for the five weeks leading up to it. And it's really only two or three weeks later that it sinks in that you're All-Ireland champions. But then it's time to go and park it and do it again.

"We sat down at the start of the year and said, 'fair enough, we were All-Ireland champions last year, but last year happened in the past - what are we going to do in our next match?'."

O'Callaghan feels that Cuala will be better primed for the decider than they were last year, when they crushed Clare club Ballyea by 2-19 to 1-10, as they bid to become the first club since Portumna in 2009 to retain the trophy.

"It's a bit of a novelty preparing for an All-Ireland club final, because you're all so close with everyone's families," says the 24-year-old. "You can't get caught in the excitement, the pub talk. People who have been involved in the club for years, they get excited.

"This year we've probably been a bit better with our preparations. We've been there, we've done that.

"You only have one competitive game in 10 weeks, so we've been having challenge matches against counties and colleges, plus internal matches. Training has really ramped up in the last three weeks."

O'Callaghan - whose younger brother Con is bidding for a ninth major trophy in 12 months - credits manager Mattie Kenny, a Galway man, for transforming Cuala's fortunes.

"Being an outside manager, he came into the set-up four years ago with no biases. He had no family ties. There were no lads being picked because they were of a certain family name," he says.

"You were being picked on merit. And that was massive in our first year, to have that… I suppose, honesty, in decision-making from the management team. He has brought the team to a new level. He's meticulous. He's top notch."

O'Callaghan's club commitments have kept him apart from the Dublin panel, so he can offer little insight into new manager Pat Gilroy.

He feels that whatever happens tomorrow, or in Dublin's league quarter-final clash with Tipperary on Sunday, he will need a short break from the sport.

"Last year, we were given two weeks off after the final before we played for Dublin in the (Division 1A) relegation match against Clare.

"I think you need to take the first week completely off. The second week - you probably need that as well. But if you really love hurling, after that you're itching to get back on to the pitch.

"You play hurling to play hurling. So while you need game-time, that two-week period of down-time worked well in the past. You get that fire in the belly back."

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