Con O’Callaghan sparkles as Dublin pay tribute to the late Shane O’Hanlon

‘Football was the last thing on our minds this week,’ says Dessie Farrell after team beat Roscommon at Croke Park

National Football League Division One: Dublin 1-19 Roscommon 1-12

“Sorry lads,” said Dessie Farrell, his voice breaking just for a moment.

We were in the Croke Park press conference room on Saturday night, in the wake of Dublin’s seven-point win over Roscommon. It was an evening that lifted Farrell’s side off the foot of the table and got their season up and running and saw Con O’Callaghan sparkle at full forward where he plundered seven points. But all that was on their minds was the loss they felt and the weight of the week since Shane O’Hanlon died.

O’Hanlon was a selector under Farrell, just as he’d been under Jim Gavin before him. He died suddenly in Spain, where he was on a scouting trip for a training camp venue. In the Dublin set-up all week, they prepared for Roscommon on autopilot.


“It was a really, really tough week for the players and the backroom team,” Farrell said. “We were all very close to him. When we got the news at the weekend, football was the last thing on our mind during the course of the week.

“It was really, really tough to focus on this game. I think that was just a measure of how much he meant to the group. People outside won’t realise. The love the players had for him and he had for them.”

What was a matchday like without him?

“It was very surreal,” Farrell said. “I don’t know how many times I have said it to him in the last two years ‘Shane, we better document the stuff you do because if you are hit by a bus or decide to f**k off on us, we will be left clueless. He would say ‘I will get round to that’ but of course the inevitable happened.

“Life’s journey is that you lose people along the way. It has never happened to this group before. There are certain individuals who have lost close family members but by and large most have been protected by that. They are of an age that that hasn’t been a significant part of their lives yet. This was the first real sort of body blow that a lot of lads would have experienced.

“It was raw. It was very hard during the week. It’s still not over, the funeral is this week coming as well. So it’s not going to go away in a hurry. That’s how much he meant to everybody. He was just such a special man. It will take us a long time.”

In the circumstances, it was probably no surprise that Dublin took a while to find their range here. After a shoddy first-half shooting display in which they kicked eight points from 16 attempts, they adjusted their sights to tidy away what had been a nettlesome assignment against the Rossies.

Seven buzzy points from O’Callaghan were the main highlight in a 1-19 to 1-12 win, although he was run close by the industrious Seán Bugler in attack, with Eoghan Murchan and Theo Clancy admirably stingy in defence as well.

For Roscommon, it was a frustrating night. They hung in and kept stride with the home side throughout the first half, kicking seven points from seven shots and having a Daire Cregg goal disallowed. Davy Burke was annoyed by that one – it was the second game in a row that they’d had one ruled out against the head after it happened against Tyrone as well.

In truth, it was a pretty marginal call – Cregg handpassed the ball into the goal via a deflection of Dublin defender Seán McMahon. The distance between the two strikes on the ball was infinitesimal. Expecting umpires to be able to tell in a millisecond whether McMahon got his hand to the ball after Cregg or at the same time is expecting a lot. Nonetheless, the Roscommon manager felt aggrieved.

“It looks like a blatant goal to me,” he said. “It hit the Dublin man’s hand and went into the back of the net. In fairness to Sean [Hurson, referee], he’s 50 yards from it, he can’t see it. But the two umpires are right there and like, we’re in Division One and we had a good goal against Tyrone given against us as well. Two umpires again made a decision, didn’t give a goal. Two umpires again today, didn’t make a decision, didn’t give us a goal. It’s tough going. We’re not getting the breaks.

“We’re coming together. We have a million and one excuses that I won’t bore anyone with but we haven’t had our full squad together once all year, for numerous reasons. It’s time we need to get in the room and start training hard as a group collectively. We will get better quickly.

“Remember 12 months ago, lads, we were top of Division One and sure we were brilliant, weren’t we? And two Division Two teams beat us and knocked us out of the Championship in May or June or whenever it was. Maybe it mightn’t be so bad coming the other way this year.”

Dublin: David O’Hanlon (0-1, free); Seán McMahon, Theo Clancy, Lee Gannon (0-1); John Small (0-1), Cian Murphy, Eoin Murchan; Brian Fenton (0-2), Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne; Seán Bugler (0-1), Ross McGarry (0-3), Ciarán Kilkenny (0-2); Paddy Small, Cormac Costello, Con O’Callaghan (0-7, one free, one mark). Subs: Sean Lowry for Costello (blood), 8-48 mins; Niall Scully (1-0) for Lowry, 48 mins; Lorcan O’Dell (0-1) for P Small, 50 mins; Greg McEneany for J Small, 55 mins; Brian Howard for Ó Cofaigh Byrne, 66 mins; Killian McGinnis for McGarry, 72 mins

Roscommon: Conor Carroll; David Murray, Brian Stack, Niall Higgins; Conor Hussey, Evan Flynn, Eoin McCormack; Shane Cunnane, Enda Smith (1-2); Ruaidhri Fallon (0-1), Dylan Ruane, Ciarán Lennon; Daire Cregg (0-4, one free, one mark), Diarmuid Murtagh (0-3), James Fitzpatrick (0-1). Subs: Conor Heneghan for Fitzpatrick, 50 mins; Robbie Dolan for Hussey, 50 mins; Conor Cox (0-1) for Lennon, 56 mins; Adam McDermott for Ruane, 62 mins; Luke Glennon for Higgins, 68 mins

Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone)

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Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times