Monday 18 December 2017

Leinster title makes years of hard work worthwhile - 'Dotsy'

O'Callaghan considered quitting hurling but is now savouring 'special' success

Dotsy O'Callaghan embraces Anthony Daly
Dotsy O'Callaghan embraces Anthony Daly
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

TWICE on Sunday a Dublin player found himself behind enemy lines without a hurl. Twice the ball skewed off the player's boot and wide of the goal.

Perhaps nothing summed up hurling's freedom from football's stranglehold more, although maybe if David 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan or Conal Keaney had found themselves in that position things would have been different.

The duo, who took the unfashionable decision to opt out of football and buy into the Dublin hurling project, have won Leinster titles before – Keaney has five and Dotsy two – but none could have possibly tasted as sweet as the moment when Johnny Ryan's whistle went at Croke Park last Sunday.

Neither has an All-Ireland medal and whether they would have been involved in 2011 when Pat Gilroy and his team got over the line is a moot point. They weren't available.

They turned their back on the glory of a packed Hill 16 and all that comes with it to take part in the hurling revolution and got their reward in front of a terrace that was one-third full but still matched the noise levels.

The road to that high has been pockmarked with disappointments and Anthony Daly revealed on Sunday that the rejuvenated O'Callaghan had considered giving it all up after last year's underperformance. Everyone wearing blue at Croke Park was thankful he didn't.

"At the end of last year, we were all looking at one another and wondering where we were going and maybe what we were offering as well," O'Callaghan explained.

"So I think everybody looked at themselves. But the management came back and really put their plan in place. To be Leinster champions really makes the work that goes into it worthwhile.

"Last year was very disappointing all round. We kind of let ourselves down. When I was coming back, I said to myself, 'I'll put in a huge effort here and see where it takes me.'

"So to come back and be here now as Leinster champions after beating Wexford, Kilkenny and Galway is just very special indeed."

As part of the breakthrough development squad that got the whole ball rolling, O'Callaghan has seen the work put in behind the scenes to get the Dubs to this point.

"There are a lot of people in Dublin who have put in savage work," the St Mark's man explained. "There were great celebrations after winning the league a few years ago.

"But last year things kind of went pear-shaped and I'm sure people were wondering where the hell this is going. To come back now and win a Leinster championship really gives everyone involved in Dublin hurling a boost."

Like O'Callaghan, Daly contemplated his future with the team last winter and there were those in the capital who believed he had taken them as far as he could. At 28, Michael Carton saw enough bad days before the Clareman's arrival and believes that Daly's decision to stay on was crucial.

"You don't really get much better than Anthony out there," the O'Toole's man said. "He's a great man to have leading you out there, he really is a great man in the dressing-room. All his hard work paid off.

Hammered

"He's five years here. We've worked so hard as a panel and we've had bad days. We've been hammered out there in Croke Park. For it all to come down to this, and us to win a Leinster final, that's what we've all wanted over the last five years. It's been brilliant now. It really has been great. It's great for Dublin hurling."

Like with their manager, talk of an All-Ireland is off the agenda.

"It would be a ridiculous thing to do (talk about it). We haven't been in an All-Ireland semi-final in two years so we can't, we'll be taking it one game at a time. Just head down for the next four or five weeks and relish it," Carton said.

"With this weather and so much to look forward to, an All-Ireland semi-final, it's where you want to be rather than being out of the championship."

They might be paying into twice as many matches but Dublin fans would agree. Summer's more fun when you double up and the talk in the pubs around Jones's Road on Sunday was drifting towards the chances of matching the achievements of the Cork teams of 1990.

It is exactly what Daly and Jim Gavin won't want to hear, but if the latter's charges can complete the second half of a first Leinster double since Offaly in 1981 then the clamour will grow.

Keaney and O'Callaghan have heard all about and dealt with the famous 'hype' before but, after years in the doldrums, the hurling fraternity can only welcome it.

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