At the ceremony to honour his achievement of winning the Rebel Óg Sports Award for February, Pa O’Callaghan was asked to say a few words.
The Ballyhea teenager, chosen for his exploits with the Cork U16s, minors and his club and school Charleville CBS in 2011, kept things brief, simply thanking the selection committee and the Ballyhea GAA Club.
He exudes a modesty not always apparent in those so supremely talented, and in the case of O’Callaghan it is a genuine modesty as he prefers to let his exploits on the hurling field do the talking for him.
He told the Irish Examiner: “I’m very proud. I’m delighted for the club as well, it’s all down to them.”
In the county MCHC final win over Bantry Blues last year, O’Callaghan scored seven points in a 3-11 to 0-9 win, but more often than not goals also form part of his armoury.
For example, as a 14-year-old, he scored 3-1 for Charleville as they beat Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh in the Harty Cup in 2009, while last year he got a goal off the bench in the Cork minors’ loss to Tipperary.
In his own eyes, it’s just part of the job, though: “I suppose, as a full-forward, you’re supposed to get goals, that’s the main objective. I do a lot of shooting down in Ballyhea pitch most days.”
It’s left to others in Ballyhea to explain just how prodigious a talent is on their hands. John Mortell is an intermediate selector as well as being on this year’s county minor management team. When asked to pick out one game that showed Pa ‘had it’, he delves back five years.
“There have been numerous games. but I suppose the first time was at U12 level,” he says.
“It was a B county final against Fr O’Neill’s, and Pa got three second-half goals to beat them. When the need was greatest he came up trumps.”
Coolness is something Mortell feels frames Pa’s game.
“Pa is very down-to-earth. He’s always down at the pitch, if he doesn’t have training or a match he’s below with a hurley and a ball.
“He was always exceptional. When he was very young he was a small little lad but he always had fierce ability.”
Now part of the club’s intermediate panel since the start of this year, there might be a danger of too much being asked of the fifth-year student too soon, but Mortell is well-placed to ensure that his development is properly paced.
“You don’t want to be putting too much pressure on his shoulders. He’s a serious talent but he can’t do everything, he’s only 17 in April.
“I think, to be fair, we’re lucky in Ballyhea that we have Diarmuid O’Riordan with us and he knows how to deal with players involved with county panels.
“In the minor set-up, we’re monitoring all players and what they do, they fill out sheets to let us know what they are doing on a weekly basis. We know if they’re being overloaded and we can keep an eye on it.”
With a properly managed progression, the possibilities for him are endless, Mortell feels.
“Jerome O’Keeffe used to do the coaching for us in the school, they won the county mini-sevens, and the prize for that was that they got to play in Croke Park.
“Pa played there the day of the All-Ireland semi-final, 2007, when Limerick beat Waterford. He played at half-time in that game.”
A week before that, another son of Ballyhea had taken to the Croker turf as Waterford beat Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final. An All-Ireland-winner in 1999 when O’Callaghan was just four, Neil Ronan has monitored his progress with interest.
“You’re making me feel old!” he laughs.
“I’d say the first time I noticed Pa it was about six or seven years ago when I was watching an underage match that he was playing in.
“Most teams that age have one exceptional fella and Pa really stood out, if the team scored 10-10 he’d have got 9-9.
“He never looks like he’s under pressure, kind of like a Ballyhea version of Joe Deane, very easy on the ball. Good hurlers always have time when they’re in possession.”
Now that they are team-mates, Ronan can appreciate at close quarters just how gifted his young clubmate is.
“This is the first year that he has been eligible to play on the intermediate team,” he says, “I’ve played two challenge games with him so far and already he’s showing a touch of class.
“He’s settling in very well and he doesn’t spare any effort in training, even though he’s involved with a load of other teams.”
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