Con O'Callaghan - different gravy
By John Harrington
Con O’Callaghan is ‘different gravy’ according to his Cuala team-mate, Shane Stapleton.
Despite not playing the game for six months, 2017 All-Star and Young Footballer of the Year, O’Callaghan, has excelled since picking up a hurley again for his club this season.
He played a key role in their successful defence of their Dublin Championship, and was electric in their AIB Leinster SHC Quarter-Final win over Dicksboro two weeks ago when he scored 1-3 from play.
Stapleton believes that O’Callaghan’s ability to make such an impact despite playing little or no hurling for most of the year marks him out as an extra-special sportsman.
“He's so physically far ahead of most people,” Stapleton told GAA.ie. “If it was anyone else and they weren't hurling for the guts of six months, when he was away with the Dublin seniors and U21s before that, to be able to come in and make an impact straight away he's just obviously a very special sort of player.
“I remember marking him a couple of years ago in training. It was his first proper year playing with the senior hurlers, he was wing-forward and I was wing-back.
“Just the way he glides across the turf and you're just hoping and praying the ball won't come near the two of ye.
“That's what it was a lot of the time. I'd see a puck-out going and he'd have made a run. The ball would go the other and I'd be looking down on maybe Sean Brennan who pucked it out thinking, 'You're after doing me a favour there! Thanks very much buddy.'
“He's a different gravy. A couple of years ago when I first saw him, we played a quarter-final against Ballyboden in 2014 which we lost. He had played a minor match just beforehand and he came along.
“A high ball was hit down between himself and Stephen Hiney, who's obviously got a long and storied career with Dublin and an excellent player, and Con must have been 18 years of age.
“He snapped the ball over Stephen Hiney, turned and was running at goal and I think he was pulled down. You could see it pretty quickly.
“David Treacy was telling me before, when he was a young lad they used to call him 'The Answer.' I'm not 100% sure if that's true but he definitely said it one day.”
Newly appointed Dublin hurling manager Pat Gilroy would surely love to be able to include a player of O’Callaghan’s calibre in his plans for next season, but the Cuala dual-star will be solely focused on playing football for the county team.
O’Callaghan isn’t the first and won’t be last Dublin dual-star to choose football over hurling at the highest level, but Tipperary native Stapleton is still convinced there’s plenty of talented hurlers in the county that Gilroy can build a competitive team around.
Reigning All-Ireland Champions Cuala had to battle hard to retain their Dublin title this year, and Stapleton says that’s because the standard of club hurling in the county is so high.
“The results would bear it out over the last few years,” said Stapleton. “We were put to the edge in Dublin every single year.
“2016 championship - the quarter-final we won it in extra-time, the semi-final by four points against Lucan and the final we won by a goal against Crokes.
“This year we barely squeezed by Brigid's in the quarter-final, I think it was two points in the end, two pucks of the ball against Vincent's who were leading at one stage near the end.
“Then against Crokes there was a point in it in injury-time and we ended up winning by three. Unbelievably tight games the whole time.
“Dublin I think is a little bit underrated because of how poorly the county team has done in the last couple of years.
“Dalo had some success but there was a couple of yo-yo years. Dublin hurling is in a much better place than people would think.”
Cuala play Wexford champions St. Martin’s in Sunday’s AIB Leinster SHC semi-final, and Stapleton is expecting a tricky test from their young up and coming team.
“They've won four minors in-a-row and an U21 as well,” he said. “Rory O'Connor shut down Jamie Barron in that All-Ireland quarter-final and not too many people shut down Jamie Barron.
“They've Willie Devereux, Jack O'Connor who's an unbelievable ball carrier with great speed, Ciaran Lyng as well an excellent club hurler. I believe Liam Dunne looked for him to play with the Wexford hurlers a few years ago to switch away from the football.
“So they've pedigree so to beat Oulart by 10 points, and this is an Oulart team that beat us in 2015, they've got to be a very good team.”