O’Callaghan and Dublin under no illusions
Tipperary in Thurles a massive test for Daly’s men
David O'Callaghan of Dublin. Photograph: Lorraine O'Sullivan/Inpho
These are anxious times for the intercounty hurler – perfectly epitomised by Dublin’s David O’Callaghan. The days of taking anything for granted are quickly disappearing.
Because two years after winning the Allianz Hurling League, and one year after being relegated to Division 1B, O’Callaghan is talking about Dublin’s semi-final against Tipperary on Sunday with an acute awareness of how fickle the so-called top table of hurling has become, at least when it comes to the league.
A week after Dublin edged out Limerick by a single point to secure that sole promotion spot to Division 1A, Cork lost out to Clare by two points, after extra-time, in the relegation play-off, and so drop to Division 1B. This time last year Cork were looking forward to a league final; Limerick, as has been well-aired, are now facing a fourth successive season in that lower division.
No wonder O’Callaghan talks about the league system being a little off.
“It has obviously turned into a very competitive division,” he starts, “and it has gone very tight. I would probably be of the view that there should probably be a few extra teams exposed to top level hurling, because that is where you improve, playing against the top teams. I don’t know the exact system or the correct system, because for us we were only focusing on our games, trying to achieve promotion, bounce back straight away.
“We’re just delighted to have achieved that, so far. Now it’s a great opportunity to go down to Thurles on Sunday, take on Tipperary, who are in great form. That’ll test us, see exactly where we’re at.
“Tipperary have been playing at a higher level of hurling. We feel the improvement is there in us.
“Also, when you look at the championship side of it, a team could only have two games. That’s something that could be looked at there. There is a lot of talk about the league but we’re all gearing towards the championship.
“I don’t have the exact answers, but if a team could potentially only play two games coming into the summer, and that’s supposed to be the most important competition, that could be looked at.”
Not that O’Callaghan is putting Dublin’s removal from the top table in last year’s league, and championship, down to problems with the league format. Indeed the 30-year-old forward, now one of the most experienced members of the panel, admits Dublin players may have got a little carried away with their limited success.
“After the successful year we had, in 2011, and it’s hard to put your finger on it exactly, but maybe we got carried away a bit, started to think things might just happen without putting in the hard work.
“This year, being down in Division 1B, it was all about trying to win games, trying to put the work in. Maybe mentally, last year, lads were talking about getting to All-Ireland finals, going a step further than the year before.
“I don’t think we were shying away from any of the work on the field or anything like that. But maybe psychologically, we were drifting away from what is required at this level because if you’re even just a couple of per cent off, any team will beat you.”
Back in form
O’Callaghan’s return to form in 2013 – compared to last year – is a further expression of Dublin’s revitalisation, and the way manager Anthony Daly appears to have restored some of their former confidence too.
With the Dublin footballers playing so well, some of the pressure’s off too, although for a former dual player like O’Callaghan (he opted for football in 2005, but before recommitting solely to hurling in ’08) there’s no point worrying about what you haven’t got. Tomás Brady’s move to football is a loss, but Dublin have now welcomed back Stephen Hiney and Ryan O’Dwyer.
“We have lads coming through that are hurling mad and all they want to do is hurl for Dublin even though they might be good footballers. It’s not something that really concerns me. Maybe a couple of years ago it would have.
“It was a bit of a disappointing year for myself. Now I’m enjoying my hurling again. I had other things going on last year, personally, that made be stay away from where I needed to be. We have a great squad and management team. Everything is in place for us to go out and perform. Now I’m just looking forward and embracing the challenges. Ultimately, you have your dreams, as any intercounty player would. But obviously it just focuses the mind because of what happened last year.”