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In praise of Con O’Callaghan, GAA’s transcendent talent

Con O’Callaghan is a transcendent GAA talent we should all be in awe of.

The fixture pile-up monster has reared his ugly head once again this week, but in an era of modern GAA where players are playing for multiple teams, in multiple competitions, a couple of days apart; you have to park the media outrage and the insult the likes of Liam Silke and Kieran Molloy might be feeling and acknowledge how much one man is doing for the game’s he loves.

Down in the south west, David Clifford emerged this winter to great acclaim, the next great shining star on this little nation’s greatest past-times. Meanwhile in the pale, Dublin have been reaping the rewards of a bona fide superstar in Cuala’s Con O’Callaghan.

His football quality has been widely acclaimed, whereas his hurling prowess has been mostly mystical as he fields only for his local club. But everyone who has watched him hurl for his club will agree that he really is as good as people say he is. Whether he’s sticking on his gloves to line-out for Dublin or alongside his colleagues at UCD, or flicking on the helmet with Cuala, the 21-year-old is the multi-sport athlete reaching levels of execution not many have witnessed before.

In Semple Stadium last weekend, he put on a full forward exhibition in the red and white of Cuala that many before him would have been proud of in the hallowed Thurles turf. He was everything: dangerous, strong, showing a beautifully light touch and a powerful athleticism to pull away from any defender. You could argue he could be plucked this minute and start for any county in the country. Considering he has never played inter-county hurling before, that’s a scary thought.

He was so good, helping his club to back-to-back All-Ireland Club finals, I was left bemoaning the presence of Gaelic Football in his life and how it was taking away from this great hurling talent. But it’s hard not to appreciate what he’s doing for both sports and the GAA as a sporting organisation.

On Wednesday evening, he lined-out for UCD for the first time this season to help them overcome the University of Ulster and mark their progression to a third consecutive Sigerson Cup final. Just like that, he lifted his hurling visor and expressed the football prowess that has seen him win a vast array of silverware in his burgeoning career.

All of a sudden, as he whisks over an extra-time point to put UCD on their way, you forget about fixture congestion and you forget about the possible damage young men playing multiple competitions, across different codes just days apart may be doing to their bodies, and simply appreciate the talent for what it is.

Con O’Callaghan is a transcendent talent that if you were to point towards what is great about modern GAA, he should be your prime example. A multi-sport sportsperson that kids around the country can look to and say, yeah – I wan’t to be as good as him. I want to play hurling and football. I can make it to the top and play both sports, because I love both sports.

Sure, it’d be nice if the GAA calendar worked in magical ways where he and us could enjoy the best of both worlds. That may never be, and whatever sport O’Callaghan chooses for the extent of his career at an inter-county level, it’s entirely his decision.

In the mean time, let’s praise a player who can pick up a hurley or a football and in an age of ever growing professionalism, show GAA is just about playing the games you love – and playing them just as good as anyone.

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