Con O’Callaghan following proud family tradition

Back in December, Con O’Callaghan explained why after lighting up the AIB Leinster club hurling championship with Cuala, he still had little interest in pursuing an inter-county hurling career.

“My Dad was a footballer so that might have swayed me a bit and I probably felt I had a bit more to offer in football,” said Con, who picked up a hurley for the first time all year after Dublin’s All-Ireland football triumph and rattled off 6-10 in three provincial championship games.

The thing is, labelling Maurice O’Callaghan merely a ‘footballer’ does a vast disservice to an intriguing career that saw the father of Cuala senior duo Con and Cian line out in both codes for two different counties, Dublin and Westmeath.

In fact, push the south-Dublin based solicitor on which code he most readily identifies with now, and he instantly responds hurling.

“I love hurling, I just think it’s a great game,” he said, before drawing the conversation to the issue of the ‘Super 8’ format and arguing that it should be introduced in the hurling Championship also. Maurice played U21 hurling for Dublin and senior hurling for Westmeath, the county of his birth, though is best known as a footballer having played a number of times for Dublin in the mid-1980s.

He started the 1983 season on the Dublin football panel but was gone by the time they won the All-Ireland that September, returning weeks later to make his league debut against Kerry in November. The following season he was on the panel that lost the All-Ireland final to Kerry.

Work as an apprentice solicitor took him to Mullingar, and a family firm, and O’Callaghan threw in his lot with the Lake County, representing them in both codes in the 1986 Championship.

The Westmeath link comes from his father, Dinny, an army officer, who left his native Cork during the Emergency to take up a position in Mullingar and was chairman of Westmeath County Board during the 1960s.

All of which neatly explains why when it comes to the O’Callaghan kids, Con and Cian, nobody quite knows whether to describe them as footballers or hurlers.

For the time being, Con is a footballer — and will be the star attraction for the Dublin U21s in the Leinster championship on Wednesday evening in, of course, Mullingar, before returning to senior county duty — while Cian, his elder at 23, is a mainstay of Dublin hurling’s full-back line.

“I’m proud of them, proud of all my kids but if they took up golf or windsurfing or kite- flying in the morning, and wanted to jack everything else in, I’d say good luck to them, it’s whatever they’re passionate about,” said Maurice.

Jim Gavin and Ger Cunningham mightn’t be so accommodating, nor their mentors at Cuala who have stood back in wonder at the displays of Con in particular over the last few months.

The attacker only appeared as a sub in the county final win over neighbours Kilmacud Crokes following his return from football duty with Dublin but in four club hurling games since then has clocked up 7-13 and claimed the AIB Leinster Club Hurler of the Year award.

The duo are part of a talented team, packed with county hurlers, though the battle for the hearts and minds of young players around the affluent Dublin suburb of Dalkey is never won and Maurice is wary of suggesting that Cuala have cracked it.

“Going back 20 years when I was club secretary, we had 200 paid up club members and a small juvenile section,” he said.

“I’d say there’s probably 1,500 now. There’s four adult football teams, that’s about 120 adult footballers, about 100 adult hurlers, maybe 200 or 300 not playing club members and probably about 60% then are juveniles or underage players.

“That’s great progress and a huge increase but it brings its own pressures, particularly around facilities.

“We’re lucky enough that Bray Emmets allow us to use their facility and we spend a lot of time out there but we’d love to get to the stage where we have our own facility and we’re able to provide for ourselves.”

Cuala teams play out of a number of grounds, including their traditional home at Hyde Park in Dalkey, as well as pitches in Thomastown, Shankhill, and Meadowvale, all in conjunction with the county council. Winning an All-Ireland title tomorrow, and becoming the first ever Dublin club to do so, could just light enough of a fire under the facilities issue to finally get something done about it.

O’Callaghan senior, a player in 1989 when Cuala won their first county hurling championship, is optimistic about the future of the club.

“In our time, if you played hurling or football in the area, you were kind of viewed oddly. There was no GAA tradition in the area.

“I’d like to think what we’ve done over the years, and what the lads are doing, will help that situation to develop even more.”

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