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'People can say what they want but you try to not let it affect you': Con O'Callaghan on staying grounded

O’Callaghan has enjoyed one of the finest individual years in GAA history.

Davy Cuala Senior Hurling Partnership Launch Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

LAST SUNDAY, CUALA became the first reigning All-Ireland club hurling champions since 2012 to defend their provincial crown the following season.

The Dalkey club won their second Leinster title in succession to seal their progression into the 2017/18 All-Ireland semi-finals. Antrim’s Loughgiel Shamrocks were the last outfit to manage that feat, with their Ulster title defence five years ago.

Coming down off the high of a St Patrick’s Day victory to compete again in the depths of the winter is no mean feat, but Mattie Kenny’s decision to give the Cuala the summer off has proved a wise move.

“Mattie (Kenny) was very good to us,” says Paul Schutte. “He gave us the summer off and kept things fresh. We’ve kind of been looking at it as a journey rather than one campaign.

“We’ve taken that approach. You don’t really get tired of it…you get tired mentally if you think of it as one season and, when that’s finished, that’s the end. You kind of fall down mentally.

“But we’ve seen it as a journey since 2012 and we’re just trying to continue on.”

Paul Schutte raises the trophy Paul Schutte raises the Leinster title Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Schutte identified a meeting the squad held earlier this year as a key factor in their continued dominance in Dublin and Leinster.

He explains: “I remember I think it was Tomas O Se that said they got to an All-Ireland final with an Ghaeltacht and when they lost he was like, ‘That’s it now, it’s so hard to get back here.’

“So that kind of crossed my mind. But then we had a meeting in the Royal Marine and we said, ‘Right let’s try and first win Dublin, second win Leinster and then try and defend out All-Ireland.’”

Cuala dangerman Con O’Callaghan agrees with that sentiment.

“I think a couple of lads in that meeting said that after winning the one All-Ireland you’re kind of not happy with that and that, because we were successful, you want to be more successful. I think that was definitely the case.”

It’s been a whirlwind year for O’Callaghan, who combined his Cuala hurling and football duties with Dublin U21 and senior football commitments.

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He picked his battles during the year, opting out of UCD’s Sigerson Cup squad for example, and admits he didn’t pick up a hurley during the summer while he was preoccupied with the Dublin senior footballers.

“I took a bit of break from hurling. I was just focusing on football completely. In the hurling season, I wouldn’t be focused on football. It’s just whichever is the championship you’re in, you focus on.

“It’s better playing matches than doing the pre-season stuff. That’s why I play, is the matches. So you just have to reset before each match. The managers have been very good as well, giving me tips or whatever, a word into the ear.

Davy Cuala Senior Hurling Partnership Launch Paul Schutte and Con O'Callaghan were at the official launch of Davy as sponsors of the Cuala senior hurling team. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“Mattie in particular, coming back into hurling. Obviously it’s different to the football, you need to focus on different skills so he would have been very good on what he expects from me and what the team would expect from me.”

O’Callaghan’s exploits in 2017, where he won every competition he played in bar one and scored 15-63 in the process, have garnered him plenty of media attention but he remains a grounded character despite his newfound fame.

“You wouldn’t really read into it,” he says. “You just stay around your friends and team mates.

“They won’t be the ones talking about it, it is people outside that bubble who will be talking about it. So you just stay in there. People can say what they want but you try to not let it affect you.”

Schutte interjects: “We watched the match afterwards, the Leinster final, back in the pub, and you’d swear we lost they way we went on. He got absolutely slated by everyone so there’s no fear of him whatsoever getting ahead of himself!”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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