cian set for parnell duel
'We're a tight-knit bunch'
WITH three minutes left in Mullingar and the scores level in Dublin's Bord Gáis Energy Leinster U21 hurling semi-final, Cian O'Callaghan stood on his line facing both a Westmeath penalty and down the barrel of yet another excruciating defeat for his county at the grade.
In 2012, it was Laois in Portlaoise. Last year, Carlow in Parnell Park.
Westmeath in Mullingar would, in hindsight, have made it a particularly unholy trio of ignominious exits from a competition in which Dublin had made two of the previous seven All-Ireland finals.
That, from a conglomerate of three minor teams to have played in two of the last three All-Ireland deciders at that particular grade.
"I didn't actually know there was only three minutes left," says the Cuala man, an unused substitute in last Sunday's dreary Leinster SHC final but a key man tonight in Parnell Park against Wexford in the provincial under 21 decider.
" You're on the line. You're not thinking about what's going on. You're just trying to get your body in the way, get your hurl in the way. Whatever you have to do to keep the ball out. And luckily, Cian Boland got the winning point. We were probably lucky he came on."
According to Dublin's manager, Joe Fortune, afterwards, the only real positive was that this team "would never play so badly again".
O'Callaghan reckons there is some mitigation.
"We were playing a good Westmeath side, first of all," he insists. "They had the crowd behind them. There was a really good atmosphere down there. It's hard to pinpoint why we didn't get going. Maybe because they were good.
"Maybe because of the conditions. I don't know. They had expectations themselves for this under-21 team."
When you escape a death sentence, which is the overriding emotion? Relief or joy?
O'Callaghan explains: "Yeah I think it's a bit of both, isn't it? It's relief, it's joy. But it's definitely positive.
"You can find negatives in a performance like that. But at the end of the day, it shows that we're tight-knit. A tight-knit bunch and we're willing to fight for each other," he stresses.
Were they conscious at all of the undistinguished slump Dublin had entered at the grade?
"Yeah, we probably were. But there's probably not much of a cross over between last year's team and this year's team," O'Callaghan points out. "It's not really an issue for this panel."
Something that was, is and will continue to be an issue for this panel and, indeed, the seniors, is the outward migration of some of their best hurlers to football.
Ciarán Kilkenny, Cormac Costello, Eric Lowndes, Emmet Ó Conghaile and Conor McHugh are all eligible for the team that plays a red-hot Wexford team tonight. All have prioritised football.
And each, with the exception of the cruciate-stricken Kilkenny, made themselves unavailable to Fortune and the team when they took over in mid-February, several months after most of their competitors had taken up sticks in preparation.
"I haven't really thought about it," O'Callaghan shrugs. "They're gone now. That's it. You can't really do anything about it. I haven't given it much thought.
"When one player goes, someone else gets a chance to step into his place. And the lads that have come in to fill those positions have done really well.
"So I don't think it's as big a deal as people make it out to be. I don't think it makes much of a difference.
"We'd have grown up together and we'd be good friends. It's not an issue.
"We chose to play hurling," O'Callaghan concludes. "They chose to play football. That's grand. There's no problems there."