GAA | Con O’Callaghan and the eradication of the dual star

“Video killed the radio star
In my mind and in my car
We can’t rewind we’ve gone too far
Pictures came and broke your heart
Put the blame on VCR”
– The Buggles

A few years after video had finished its attempt at killing off the radio star, a heightened level of professionalism in team preparation for our inter county GAA teams began the process of eradicating a different star, the dual star, from the GAA world.

An abundance became a trickle and eventually that trickle disappeared into oblivion. The dual star became as obsolete as a packed out Railway Cup fixture on St. Patrick’s Day.

Maybe we didn’t realize what we were losing.

“To me, Con O’Callaghan is the best hurler in Ireland right now” – Tommy Walsh, December 2017

The death of the dual star may rob aficionados of the GAA of the opportunity of seeing the man Tommy Walsh termed the ‘best hurler in Ireland’ ever play an inter-county senior game.

Con O’Callaghan hitting 2-03 on his return to the club scene with Cuala last weekend against Kilmacud Crokes has reminded the whole country again of his unique abilities with the small ball. He has been compiling outrageous tallies for Cuala now for over five years as they have established themselves as the country’s pre-eminent club hurling force but coming so soon after Dublin’s five in a row success, this particular tour de force made it impossible not to at least consider how his life as an inter county footballer could dovetail with life as an inter county hurler.

Before his emergence onto the senior team, Cuala were already populated with a number of inter-county stars. He was ‘the answer’ though.

Other clubs before Cuala went searching for their own ‘answers’ too. For the decade prior to Cuala’s emergence, Ballyhale Shamrocks and Portumna bestrode the All-Ireland series as Gulliver’s in a land of Lilliputians.

Both were heavily stacked with Kilkenny and Galway inter county stars respectively but it was the emergence of two of this decade’s most lethal forwards that pushed them beyond the reach of the rest of the country’s elite hurling clubs.

TJ and Joe.

Any debates about the best players of this generation will include their names and they have been omnipresent in their side’s successful journeys.

With Jim Gavin keeping a tight rein on Con in terms of his inter-county involvement, the best terms on which to examine his likely impact at inter county level and his place as one of the country’s great hurlers is to compare his exploits at club level with the main forwards for the teams that previously dominated the club championships and to consider how transferable this form is to the inter county scene.

When we do so, it wets the appetite even further in considering what Con could achieve with the Dublin hurlers. Across 10 games at All-Ireland Club level for Portumna, Canning shot 5-17 from play averaging 3.2 points per game during Portumna’s All-Ireland campaigns.

Canning never had a competitive provincial environment to navigate but Reid had and across 24 games at provincial and All-Ireland level for Ballyhale, he has shot 8-52 from open play at an average of again 3.2 points per game.

With Cuala, Con has shot 8-32 from play.

In 12 games at provincial and All Ireland level.

Averaging 4.7 points per game.

Con has been hitting 1.5 points per game more than two of the game’s most dangerous forwards playing at the same level with comparably strong teams.

Their records have transferred favourably to the inter county scene too with both hitting close to the three-point mark per game from play during their last decade of inter county hurling. Using that form as a term of reference, it is reasonable to predict that Con’s scoring rate would have a similar transference.

He would be faced with more sophisticated defensive systems were he to make the step up and the space that he thrives on between the 21 and 65 yard lines would be demonstrably more congested than at club level but in mitigation of these obstacles, the quality of ball being fed to him would also likely be of a higher standard on a more consistent basis.

If that was the case, Con would be averaging close to four points per game from play for the Dublin hurlers. That would make him consistently one of the highest scoring hurlers in the game.

In that world, Tommy Walsh’s statement above would appear less and less outlandish.

 

Michael Mulkerrins