Fr O'Neill's hurler Declan Dalton. David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE
Declan Dalton

'I made a decision then just to get fit, lose weight and push onto being an outfield player'

Cork senior Declan Dalton started out as a goalkeeper but is now a star forward with an All-Ireland club final date tomorrow.

IF DECLAN DALTON is now recognised as an attacker – shining for club, division and county teams – he had began hurling further back the pitch.

Goalkeeper was his first position with his club Fr O’Neill’s, the switch outfield took place in his teenage years. In 2015 he was the netminder for the Cork minor hurlers, in 2017 he stood between the posts for the divisional outfit Imokilly as they lifted the senior crown in Cork.

But he’d made the decision in his mind that a career as a forward was his goal, it was just a matter of focusing on hitting that target.

“I was in goal until I was about U14 but after that I came outfield for my club. I’d always been in goal for Imokilly until three years ago. I couldn’t see myself playing in goal for my whole career.

“I made a decision then just to get fit, lose weight and push onto being an outfield player which I wanted to be the whole time, but I couldn’t.

“I had to work very hard to lose weight, get stronger, get fitter. I’m trying to catch up on everyone else who has it in their legs. If I can keep building, keep pushing on, hopefully my career will pan out well.”

He came off the bench to join the forward line for Cork last summer, he’ll be hoping to push on to force his way into Kieran Kingston’s 2020 plans.

Before that there is the prospect of the All-Ireland intermediate club final tomorrow with Fr O’Neill’s. Dalton’s free-taking and scoring contributions have seen him play a central role. He shot 1-7 against Glen Rovers when Imokilly completed Cork senior three-in-a-row last October, 0-10 a fortnight ago when Fr O’Neill’s overcame Tooreen at the All-Ireland semi-final stage.

james-barry-and-declan-dalton Declan Dalton in action for Cork against Tipperary last May. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

His returns are a product of relentless hard work.

“I’m practising frees the whole time. I might take 100 frees and want to score 95. I’d give myself a target behind the goals. If I change angles, I’d still give myself a target, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a tree behind the goals, I want to hit in bang in the middle of the tree’.

“Say if there’s a moving target, if I pick up a ball and see a bird flying past me, I’ll try to hit the bird when it’s in the middle of the goals. That’s the way that I look at things: If you keep pinging a small target, then your accuracy is going to get better because you’re hitting a small target rather than a big one.

“Striking, in general, is a massive part of the game. If you can strike the ball from a standing start, it makes striking the ball on the run easier.

“I’d be a big fan of golf. I was watching one of the pro golfers practising one day. There was an ‘I’ on the sign in front of him and he was practising hitting that I. If I am taking frees, I try to finish on a good one. Hit the I with the last ball. I’d always hit another good one just to get me in a good mood going home.”

Tomorrow is a seismic occasion for Fr O’Neill’s as they line up against Tullaroan but this is not a case of breaking new ground for their East Cork community.

Back in 2006 they lifted the junior crown, a six-point success over Carlow’s Erins Own.

“In 2006, I was only eight,” recalls Dalton.

“I don’t really remember much of it. My father (Robbie) was a selector on the team. Hopefully now we can bring a second one home.

“You hear a lot about it, there’s pictures on the wall. It’s actually in our club song about the picture in Croke Park on the wall. You’d love to write a new verse in the song!

“There’s Eoin Conway and Podge Butler (still playing), they’re pushing on a bit and would love to win a second one before their career ends. A couple of the management were involved in 2006.

“Hopefully, on Saturday, that dream comes true. It’s a big thing for our club to be back here in an All-Ireland final.”

The significance is heightened by the presence of neighbours Russell Rovers in the junior decider.

“It’s actually great for the parish,” says Dalton.

“Russell Rovers, you’d never actually play each other because we were always a grade or two grades ahead of them. Now that we can come to Croke Park together is very special. We don’t always see this. If both of us could win, it’d great.”

aib-gaa-all-ireland-club-championships-finals-media-day Russell Rovers player Brian Hartnett will be in action in the junior final. David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Dalton has come up through the Fr O’Neill’s ranks with a gifted crop, including Cork senior team-mate Ger Millerick.

The last few seasons at local level have brought a wave of success with his club and divisional outfit Imokilly in the senior grade.

“I actually had this conversation with someone a couple of weeks ago: I’ve six counties in three years, which is not even thought of [as a possibility]. For some people, they might only win one in their whole career.

“Six in three years, when I look back on it, maybe it hasn’t sunk in what we’ve done. Maybe it’ll sink in five years down the line. It’ll be special looking back on it.”

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