Level-headed O’Callaghan reflects on golden year

When Con O’Callaghan pauses for thought and flicks through the statistics of an incredible season, even he may be surprised at the figures in front of him, writes Paul Keane.

In the 22 major games that he’s competed in, for the various club and county teams he’s represented, the attacker experienced defeat just once.

That was while playing for the Cuala footballers against St Jude’s in the quarter-finals of the Dublin championship. Even at that, he scored four points.

In fact, he never failed to score in any game he played in all year, blasting 15 goals in those 22 matches across both codes.

The most memorable goal was the one he scored at the start of the All-Ireland football final in September which set Dublin on their way to the three-in-a-row.

But all of the scores — he also contributed 64 points in those 22 games between February and December — were important in their own way as the teams he was involved with picked up seven different trophies, including three All-Irelands.

The latest trophy was annexed on Sunday afternoon in Portlaoise when his 1-2 haul helped Cuala to hold onto the AIB Leinster club title, keeping them in line for a successful defence of their All-Ireland crown.

“It feels like it hasn’t really stopped since last year,” said O’Callaghan, who jointly captained the Dublin U21 footballers to All-Ireland success in April, shortly after the club’s All-Ireland hurling win.

“It’s gone straight through from March, we’ve been training the whole time. It took us a while with Cuala to get back up to speed this season so we’re just delighted to get back to this point and to win.

“At the start of the year, we kind of struggled a bit in Dublin. We struggled to get back to the level that we were at last year. You’d expect that (after winning the All-Ireland). But with each match we kind of grew in confidence and we got a bit of energy back from playing week to week. Since then we’ve been motoring well and giving good performances.”

Life should be a little more straightforward for O’Callaghan in 2018 having exited the underage ranks. Yet he has indicated he may play for UCD in the Sigerson Cup so that will require some scheduling too.

Cuala manager Mattie Kenny believes his star forward has the capacity to be even better in the coming years, a scary thought given how well he’s played this year in both codes.

“As a player, if you think you’ve arrived then you’re dead in the water, aren’t you?” said Kenny. “With Con, every day he goes out, every day he gets up, he’s trying to see what he can do to improve himself. The guy is only 21 years of age, he’s only a young lad really. He’s got six, seven or eight years at his peak in front of him, up until his late 20s.

“So every day he plays, whether it’s in football or hurling, he’s going to be gaining experience, coming up against different situations, different markers, and he’ll be figuring out ways of how to work around that. So can he improve? Yes, of course he can.

“Obviously I don’t like individualising players too much but Con is an exceptional sports guy, an exceptional hurler and an exceptional footballer. He’s after having an exceptional year. He’s a very, very grounded young lad too.

“From a hurling point of view, we only have to work on the skills of the game with him because he doesn’t have to do any physical training as such.

“That’s good because I think when people are talking about all the physical miles on the clock and that sort of (burnout) thing, it’s more the training, training, training really that can get to you.”

The only downside to O’Callaghan’s success for both his club and the Dublin U21s in recent seasons is that he hasn’t played much National League football for Dublin during spring.

It’s shaping up for more of the same in early 2018 as Cuala will play an All-Ireland club semi-final on February 10, against Liam Mellows of Galway, and will be favourites to win that and march through to another St Patrick’s Day decider.

“We’ll play it by ear, I’ll stay with the club for as long as they’re in it,” he said.

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