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After shooting 3-24 at U21 football level, Dublin senior breakthrough is the next goal

Con O’Callaghan has caught fire at U21 level this spring.

AT THE END of January, Con O’Callaghan was sprung from the bench for a late cameo in Dublin’s league game against Kerry.

That night in Croke Park marked his first steps into senior football waters, and while he was not involved again as Jim Gavin’s side marched imperiously to another spring triumph, he’s been wreaking havoc elsewhere on the football fields.

EirGrid GAA U21 Player of the Month for March 2016 Con O'Callaghan received the EirGrid GAA U21 player of the month for March yesterday. Source: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

A patella tendon tear left the 20 year-old sidelined for a large chunk of 2015 but he made amends over the past couple of months in his first campaign at U21 level.

Taking the Meath, Laois, Kildare and Mayo defences for a combined haul of 3-24 signalled the attacking capabilities of the Cuala club man.

March 2nd – 1-7 (0-3f) v Meath

Con O'Callaghan with Daniel O'Neill and Jamie Reilly Con O'Callaghan got his U21 campaign off to a flying start for Dublin against Meath Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

March 19th – 0-5 (0-3f) v Laois

Con O'Callaghan with Liam Knowles Con O'Callaghan caused huge problems for Laois in the Leinster semi-final Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

April 2nd – 1-7 (0-5f) v Kildare

Darren Maguire and Ryan Houlihan tackle Con O'Callaghan Con O'Callaghan won a Leinster U21 medal with Dublin's success over Kildare Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

April 16th – 1-5 (0-3f) v Mayo

Con O'Callaghancelebrates scoring his side's first goal Con O'Callaghan nets for Dublin against Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

O’Callaghan’s sensational form explains why he is the next forward to roll off the conveyor belt into the senior squad.

But for now there is still a sense of disappointment that his U21 campaign did not end in glory after last month’s semi-final loss to Mayo.

“At the start of the year we were an ambitious group and we knew we had a lot of potential.

“We probably weren’t recognised to be hot favourites as Dublin teams were before, but we planned that we wanted to (go) all the way.

“I watched the (Mayo) match a few nights ago, looking back when we are four points ahead with a few minutes left, it is hard to watch that and know the outcome.

Diarmuid O'Connor celebrates at the final whistle Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“You think we are in control and are ahead but it’s tough. There are regrets there we could have won it and they went on to win it with a great performance.”

He’ll train his sight on senior challenges now. The queue for places in the Dublin forward line is heavily populated with plenty players jostling for position.

“I’m looking to try and push my way into the panel and put myself in some sort of contention,” admits O’Callaghan.

“It’s a challenge. They are the top footballers in the game at the moment and if I can challenge them in any way, it’s a good experience.

“They are strong lads, 25 or 26 and in the peak of their condition. I try and stay on top of my gym but it is a step up and you have to adapt to it and see how you get on.”

His focus is firmly on football though despite dabbling in hurling. O’Callaghan caught the eye for the Dublin minor hurlers and started for his club Cuala in last November’s AIB Leinster senior club hurling final.

His older brother Cian is establishing himself in the Dublin senior hurling rearguard but Con is following the football path.

Cian O’Callaghan Dublin hurler Cian O'Callaghan Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He (Cian) started and played the whole championship last year. It’s encouraging that the young lads are breaking through and making an impact.

“He’d be helpful enough with me, giving advice here and there. Cuala would be more hurling. I played all the way up to minor, Gaelic and hurling.

“Cian used to play football; he moved to hurling. I moved naturally to football. I always felt I was a better footballer.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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