Imagine for a moment what it feels like to be the Dublin hurling manager watching Cormac Costello sitting on the footballers’ bench. The sight of Ciarán Kilkenny ripping it up on a more regular basis can’t be much more palatable.
“There’s a touch of torture in it alright,” admitted Anthony Daly who made big, but unsuccessful, plays to lure both dual players over to hurling when managing the Dubs.
Those former hurling prodigies at least had the good grace not to rub Daly’s nose in it like Con O’Callaghan has been doing to Ger Cunningham for the last few weeks.
Just back from a summer on the periphery of the Dublin football panel, O’Callaghan didn’t even start the county hurling final for Cuala but lined out in the AIB Leinster club championship and promptly nailed 4-3 in his first game.
His second, the semi-final win over the Carlow champions, yielded a 1-3 return, the game breaking goal and bookings for two St Mullin’s players who resorted to dark arts in an effort to shackle him.
The great shame, of course, is that if Cuala lose today and slip to back-to-back provincial final defeats, O’Callaghan may not be seen holding a hurley again for another nine months or so.
He has made it clear that he won’t play senior hurling for Dublin any time soon and, equally, won’t jeopardise his football career by playing U21 county hurling.
That might seem surprising given that big brother Cian, Cuala’s full-back, is an established Dublin defender though he tellingly revealed that their father, Maurice, was a keen footballer.
“That might have swayed me a bit and I probably felt I had more to offer in football,” admitted Con, a dual Leinster minor finalist with Dublin in 2014. “I got an injury then when I was 19, tore my patella tendon, so I was out for a year. I decided I was going to focus on U21 football and leave the hurling aside. When I got a call up to the senior footballers, I said I’d give it my full attention. You’re not going to get into that team if you’re sidetracked by U21 hurling so I put it aside for football.”
That probably sounds a lot like blasphemy to Dublin hurling folk who will no doubt shake their heads and ponder lost talent when O’Callaghan gets on the ball in today’s televised decider.
Former Dublin hurler and selector Ciaran Hetherton, currently in charge of the Leinster team, reckons the exciting 20-year-old would walk onto Cunningham’s team at the moment.
“Judging by the way he’s playing (yes) and he obviously has the strength and fitness from the football as well,” said Hetherton.
“He’s a great addition to Cuala. Look, if we could pick a Dublin hurling team from the footballers, wouldn’t it be great. We’d have many All-Ireland winning hurlers if we got the footballers to play hurling. But that’s just Dublin at the moment. I could name four or five that would make a difference to the hurling team if they would commit.”
It hasn’t all been one way traffic and the likes of Johnny McCaffrey, Liam Rushe and Danny Sutcliffe could easily have gone the big ball route too. Ironically, O’Callaghan could play a key role in making hurling more attractive to young Dublin players by helping Cuala to become the first team from the capital to win the Leinster title since Crumlin in 1979. How good he could be if he had a hurl in his hand all the time, that’s a thought that lingers when he reveals he was actually a bit rusty the day he hit 4-3 against Laois’ Borris-Kilcotton last month.
“I’m feeling good now, I feel the games are helping, especially the ones at high intensity,” said the UCD commerce student. “I played a bit against Lucan and Crokes in Dublin and I’ve played the full two recent matches in Leinster so I’m growing a bit. My touch is sharper than it was and I’m feeling good and fresh.”
For the record, Hetherton is confident that Cuala can get the job done in Portlaoise tomorrow. “The pace of Darragh O’Connell in midfield and the prowess of David Treacy and Mark Schutte up front beside Con gives them the edge, both in Dublin and Leinster,” said Hetherton. “They have had an easy run to the Leinster final, playing the Laois and Carlow champions, so they haven’t probably been tested as well as O’Louglhin Gaels have. But it’s a great opportunity for them.”
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