Mayo stand between Cuala starlet and the ultimate crown
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