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Thursday 20 September 2018

O'Connell switch vital to Cuala's amazing win

Cuala’s Darragh O’Connell and David Treacy
Cuala’s Darragh O’Connell and David Treacy

Growing up in Abbeydorney, a town situated about six miles north of Tralee, it's unlikely that Darragh O'Connell ever imagined he would have two All-Ireland club senior hurling medals won before he was 28.

"You've probably played these games in your back garden a couple of hundred times when you're a young lad," he confirmed as the embers cooled on Saturday evening in Portlaoise.

"To actually get the opportunity … not many do. I suppose when you get that opportunity it's very important that you grasp it with two hands."

In a team populated mostly with players with long-standing familial ties to Cuala, O'Connell has become a very important part of this team's furniture.

Indeed, he is vital to their feng shui!

O'Connell played both the drawn All-Ireland final and Cuala's semi-final win over Liam Mellows at wing-back but started last Saturday in his more familiar environs of midfield.

He scored arguably the game's finest individual point, too, an 80-metre run where he glided out of the reaches of three would-be tacklers and superbly arrowed over. What O'Connell probably didn't anticipate was his subsequent spell at corner-back.

Adrian Breen had taken Oisín Gough for three points before Mattie Kenny put Paul Schutte on to him.

That arrangement lasted just long enough for Breen to score his fourth point and Schutte's hamstring to snap - thus O'Connell was sent for.

Having scored four points in the first 24 minutes, Breen got just one more in the match, thanks largely to O'Connell's zealous marking job.

"Questions have been asked all year about the hunger and character of this team," he observed afterwards.

"Last Saturday the game was dead and buried and we managed to pull it out of the fire.

"Again today, we got six points up and probably didn't put them away but we showed great resolve for the last couple of minutes again to swing it our way.

"It's always difficult after you draw a game with the emotion of it," he went on.

"You're just trying to bring yourself back down to earth again and see if you could get those little percentages maybe here and there."

There are, of course, Kerryman with more All-Ireland medals but not of the variety O'Connell now possesses and he took the time to celebrate with his family on Saturday evening in Portlaoise.

"They travel the length and breadth of the country," he explained.

"They're probably sick of the M7 to be honest but the support has been brilliant.

"When you look about here to see the red and white, it's just wonderful to be part of," added O'Connell.

"It's incredible. Right now it's all a bit of a daze really."

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