Mayo stand be­tween Cuala star­let and the ul­ti­mate crown

Irish Daily Mirror - - SPORT - BY MICHAEL SCULLY

COM­ING into the Le­in­ster fi­nal on July 16, Kil­dare would have been aware of the grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion of Con O’cal­laghan but they had big­ger fish to fry. With two points from frees on his Cham­pi­onship de­but against Car­low and then three from play among the 4-29 racked up against West­meath, the Li­ly­whites didn’t see him as a preda­tor in an at­tack packed with pi­ra­nhas. O’cal­laghan took them for 12 points – with half of his scores com­ing from frees af­ter tak­ing over from the black-carded Dean Rock in that im­por­tant kick­ing role. Two months on, the 21-year-old is pre­par­ing for his first All-ire­land SFC fi­nal. “I was speak­ing to some of the Kil­dare guys af­ter­wards and they did so much home­work and video anal­y­sis on the Dublin team, but they didn’t re­ally fac­tor in Con O’cal­laghan at all,” ex­plained Dublin’s 2011 All-ire­land win­ner Barry Cahill (right). “Now it’s hard to cover ev­ery­one Dublin has, but it just goes to show that given an op­por­tu­nity... he scored 12 points the day and with his goal the last day, he’s been a real boost for Dublin.” Af­ter watch­ing his dis­play against the Li­ly­whites and his su­perb in­di­vid­ual goal early in the semi-fi­nal against Ty­rone, you can be cer­tain that Mayo won’t make the same mis­take that Kil­dare did. “I thought the last day would be a big test for Con,” ad­mit­ted three-time All-ire­land win­ner Alan Bro­gan. “It turned out (dif­fer­ently), par­tic­u­larly with his goal – he fin­ished it very well. “But he got through very eas­ily so par­tic­u­larly with the Mayo half-back line, it’s go­ing to be a big test for him. “It will be a step up again so hope­fully he can do the busi­ness.” O’cal­laghan is a mem­ber of Dublin GAA fam­ily roy­alty. His fa­ther, Mau­rice, came on as Joe Mc­nally’s re­place­ment in the 1984 All-ire­land fi­nal de­feat to Kerry. Mau­rice went on to be a dual player for West­meath

To­mor­row could see Con col­lect a mag­nif­i­cent hat-trick of All-ire­lands af­ter club and U-21 glory..

and has watched one son, Cian, play for the Dublin hurlers for the past few years. Con is also a tal­ented hurler and to­gether the O’cal­laghan broth­ers helped Cuala to the Al­lire­land club ti­tle in March – Con scored 6-10 in the Le­in­ster club se­ries alone. He won the All-ire­land un­der-21 foot­ball crown with the Dublin foot­ballers the next month. To­mor­row could see him col­lect a mag­nif­i­cent hat-trick as the se­nior Dublin foot­ballers strive for their own Al­lire­land three-in-a-row. But O’cal­laghan’s Cuala com­mit­ments made the young man him­self won­der if he would break into Jim Gavin’s stel­lar for­ward line this sum­mer with no League game time un­der his belt. “There are a whole host of play­ers who have had good un­der­age ca­reers that when we brought in, for one rea­son or the other, didn’t make it as county foot­ballers,” said Gavin. “Con just took his op­por­tu­nity. He has a great at­ti­tude, that’s his biggest re­source.” Dubs se­lec­tor De­clan Darcy added: “It was a fan­tas­tic po­si­tion for him to be in. “But he was prob­a­bly more frus­trated than any­one else. He was afraid that by the end of the Na­tional League... some­times the play­ers might feel if they’re not in, they might have a hard task to break into the team. “But the en­vi­ron­ment is very open and Con’s at­ti­tude was fan­tas­tic. His at­ti­tude and workrate in train­ing is why he’s play­ing and get­ting these per­for­mances. “Con has fit­ted in seam­lessly.” O’cal­laghan de­cided to at­tend UCD but not to take up the in­vi­ta­tion of a schol­ar­ship be­cause he feared burnout. Ciaran Kilkenny, who suf­fered a cru­ci­ate in­jury in 2014, is one of those who he turned to for ad­vice. “His at­ti­tude is phe­nom­e­nal,” said Kilkenny, now the Dubs’ play­maker. “He’s well-grounded and per­form­ing very well. “He works ex­tremely, ex­tremely hard for the team and that’s what’s great about him.” His biggest stage yet beck­ons. Cahill reck­ons that what­ever hap­pens, O’cal­laghan has had a sum­mer to re­mem­ber. “I don’t think it will phase Con, he’s played in two of them al­ready this year and done pretty well,” he said. “There’s not a huge amount of pres­sure on him. There are other op­tions up there. “He could have a quiet enough game but still do a job, and Dublin can get over the line. But his emer­gence has been phe­nom­e­nal.”

THE LAST LAUGH Dublin’s John Small and Con O’cal­laghan cel­e­brate af­ter their Le­in­ster ti­tle win back in July

KNACK OF THE NET Paddy An­drews looks on as Dub star­let Con O’cal­laghan blasts in spec­tac­u­lar early goal against Ty­rone, also be­low

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