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Saturday 10 December 2016

Cuala will look to Kerry gold for glory

Cuala’s Darragh O’Connell in action in their SHC ‘A’ semi-final victory over Ballyboden St Enda’s
Cuala’s Darragh O’Connell in action in their SHC ‘A’ semi-final victory over Ballyboden St Enda’s

You can see the Ball Walls sprinkled around North Kerry. The wind whistling in from the Atlantic, and the sliotar splashing against the concrete.

Growing up, Darragh O'Connell would be out in his back garden trying to emulate the skills of DJ Carey.

"It was the likes of DJ and Eoin Kelly that I really admired. Fellas like that," he reflects.

He hails from Abbeydorney. He played through all the grades for the club. And in that part of the Kingdom, the ash burns bright.

"There's a great tradition of hurling in North Kerry. People love their hurling in that locality.

"There's not that many clubs, but for those involved, the game means so much. It's everything. And the county team have made good steps. They have made significant progress in recent years.

"I was raised in a hurling environment. You grow up with a hurley. And to wear the club jersey is a huge thing in Kerry.

"It can be difficult for hurling when football is so strong in the county, but there are little pockets of Kerry where hurling is flourishing."

Darragh played for Kerry, before declaring for the Dubs this year. He won the Christy Ring Cup with the county. And a National League title too. How new manager, Ciarán Carey, would love to have him on board.

He carries fitness in the kit bag. And he's versatile too.

But he has settled in Dalkey, and he has got to like the scenery around the harbour. Now he's getting ready for Saturday's Dublin Senior Hurling Championship final against St Jude's in Parnell Park (3.0).

"I have been in Dublin for four years and I had been training with Cuala. I'm just delighted to be involved. It's a great set-up."

His form saw him become a Dublin Blue.

"I had a few runs with Dublin. It was very enjoyable. Hopefully, I'll get called back in again.

"The standard in Dublin is very high. The county have made tremendous strides in the last few years."

Kingpins

Cuala had to push hard to get over the line against the long-time Dublin Kingpins, Ballyboden St Enda's, in the semi-final.

"Semi-finals are always difficult games. You just want to win them. It doesn't matter if it's by 12 points or one point.

!It's all about getting the result, and, thankfully, we did that.

"Boden put us to the pin of our collar. It was a real testing game. And it was a great hurdle to overcome."

Now, Cuala face another formidable fence in St Jude's, last year finalists, who were just a puck away from their first title.

Darragh is expecting another demanding assignment as Cuala bid to win their first Senior Championship crown since 1994.

He has been impressed with St Jude's, and he has seen them bloom and grow on the slopes of Tymon.

Seán Fallon and his colleagues have moulded craft and conviction in a team studded with quality. Jude's have an elegance about them. And energy too.

Dublin hurling's biggest day won't inhibit them. They'll embrace it. It's only 12 months since they stepped off the red carpet. And Cuala were in the parade as recently as 2012.

Darragh states that this could be a match that could sparkle. And like all, he's looking forward to the Donnycarney Dance.

"It's great to be in the final, but we all know there's nothing won yet."

But if Cuala win, there's every chance of a call from Weeshie Fogarty.

Yet whether it's Radio Kerry or Radio Dublin, Darragh is happy in his hurling.

And with the salt air of the Atlantic Ocean and Coliemore in the timber, he'll continue to do his best to make waves.

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