Ger Cunningham must wish Con O’Callaghan was available to the Dublin senior hurling squad, arguably more than any of the other players not involved this season, writes Peter McNamara.
Is there a more abrasive and direct full-forward in the game at present? O’Callaghan’s self-belief borders on the cheeky and no defender in their right mind would fancy tackling Cuala’s showman.
And this praise, obviously, isn’t based on just the performance he produced last Saturday in the Athletic Grounds as the Dubliners destroyed Slaughtneil to reach the AIB All-Ireland Club SHC final.
Everybody aware of his qualities will understand just how great a weapon O’Callaghan would be for Cunningham’s side.
Then again, at the level he is operating at O’Callaghan would slot into any inside forward line in the country.
Ballyea’s management team will study footage of the attacker between now and St Patrick’s Day, one would assume, seeking to pinpoint some chink in his armour.
Yet, the very best defenders in the code would struggle to contain him.
What is it, though, that marks O’Callaghan out from other forwards at this moment in time? Primarily, his spatial awareness is second to none.
He draws defenders into pockets of space between the 13m- and 20-metre lines that they simply do not want to be forced to work in.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that his elusive nature plants countless seeds of doubt into his markers’ minds.
The way in which O’Callaghan menacingly canters around this sector seems to make his direct opponents feel like they are in no man’s land, just that little gap too far from their own area of self-assurance. The classic ‘corridor of uncertainty’.
His team-mates in the Cuala set-up, of course, understand his game and movements for obvious reasons and manage to direct teasing possessions his way regularly.
This is, I would proffer, Cuala’s greatest strength as the All-Ireland Club final looms, O’Callaghan’s appreciation of space and how in sync he is with those tasked with locating him.
Every time O’Callaghan gathers possession from these plays it is highly likely Cuala will have a goalscoring opportunity to come as his priority is to evade his marker with a burst of pace and drive towards goal.
Ballyea’s rearguard will not have encountered any inside forward quite like O’Callaghan as of yet in this campaign.
Potentially, the most efficient means of minimising the damage he could inflict at Croke Park would be to place a sweeper in front of him.
Yet, if they do it would mean Ballyea’s arsenal may be lighter in another sector. It will be the most intriguing plot of this year’s decider at headquarters.
And Ballyea will be doing extremely well to devise and implement a plan that’ll frustrate O’Callaghan.
Of course, Cuala will have plenty to worry about themselves, especially how they counter Tony Kelly.
Nevertheless, were Cuala to break even in the middle third O’Callaghan has greater scope to profit in the context of the match than Ballyea’s offensive lines would be were the Clare champions to shade that area.
Basically, there will no attacking player on the pitch two weeks from Friday as potent as O’Callaghan.
The thing is, there wouldn’t be many games this season at inter-county level illuminated with forwards as threatening as him, either. He really is that good.
There are similarities between O’Callaghan and Cork youngster Shane Kingston.
True, the latter is roaming at wing-forward for the Rebels in the Allianz NHL Division 1A.
Yet, were Kingston to be situated in at corner- or full-forward he could actually perform in a similar vein to the Cuala man.
Maybe it’s a fearlessness of youth, but the Douglas forward is always keen to attack the posts from deep areas.
With that in mind, would it benefit the Leesiders to position him even closer to goal which would therefore mean he could explode from a starting spot of more favourable surroundings as he targets green flags?
Players whose automatic aim is to find the net are worth their weight in gold. It’s quite easy to envisage Kingston developing into a player in the mould of O’Callaghan.
Last week, it was argued an inside attacking axis of Séamus Harnedy and Conor Lehane could work the oracle for Cork.
Having watched O’Callaghan thriving again last Saturday it struck that Kingston, factoring in the similarities in styles and approaches, could work effectively in tandem with either Harnedy or Lehane, that high up the pitch.
The evolution of O’Callaghan and Kingston should be box office material.
However, unfortunately that will not be the case due to the former’s decision to play with Jim Gavin’s footballers.
In fairness to O’Callaghan, there is obviously more potential for success with Gavin’s men. Yet, it remains a great shame that the Dublin hurlers are not as formidable as they could be with the addition of a handful of clever players.
Dublin host Waterford on Saturday evening at headquarters and require maximum points, badly.
You can’t help but wonder what they would achieve, however, had Cunningham a full complement of players to choose from.
After all, Dublin are seeking to challenge counties in which hurling is the priority.
The small ball, as we all know, comes first in Tipperary, Kilkenny, Clare, Waterford and, arguably, Galway and so, for Cunningham’s charges, it’s as if they are constantly chasing the leading group rather than mixing it with them.
And the Metropolitans had this issue pre-Cunningham and will do so post-Cunningham.
The fact of the matter is Dublin hurling may never realise its potential.
As long as football equals trophies there hurling will equal second fiddle. That reality might be hard to swallow, but you just can’t get away from it, either.
The Dublin County Board can drive hurling as much as they like from grassroots grades upwards. Yet, the next Con O’Callaghan will come along, rip it up on the track with their club and yet still opt for senior inter-county football afterwards.
That’s truly unfortunate because the tools are there for Dublin to compete with the elite if the allure of football wasn’t as enticing.