Con O'Callaghan unmarkable again as Cuala march on

Full-forward had six possessions in first half and tried to score a goal with them all

Cuala’s Con O’Callaghan was to the fore again on Sunday. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Cuala’s Con O’Callaghan was to the fore again on Sunday. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

 

Cuala (Dublin) 3-17 St Martin’s (Wexford) 0-15

If and when it happens, the team that stops Cuala will have done a serious day’s work.

Wexford champions St Martin’s were dismissed here in almost identical circumstances to Kilkenny winners Dicksboro a fortnight ago, a feat made all the more impressive for the fact that St Martin’s manager Tomás Codd was in the crowd that day and so knew exactly what was coming. And still his side wasn’t able to do a damn thing about it.

The rudiments of the Cuala challenge are unchanging from game to game. Séan Moran and Cian O’Callaghan are stand-up defenders down the middle, Oisin Gough and Paul Schutte attack the ball from the wings, Darragh O’Connell is a greyhound in centrefield, David Treacy, Jake Malone and Colm Cronin do their bit on the three-quarter line. And inside, Con O’Callaghan is more or less unmarkable.

You could make an argument that O’Callaghan didn’t do an awful lot here – he probably had no more than a dozen possessions in the game. But he ended the afternoon with 1-3 to his name and he set up the other two goals. By the time Willie Devereux was switched onto him after 20 minutes, Cuala had their first two goals on the board and the game was as good as gone.

It meant that when you added in the Dicksboro game, Devereux was his fifth marker in 80 minutes of hurling. In a 90-second period on the second half, O’Callaghan skinned his marker for three consecutive, cold-blooded points. The sight of him running onto decent ball must make every intercounty defender in the land wish him endless success in his football career.

“Con O’Callaghan is a special player,” said Codd afterwards. “He’s Young Footballer of the Year and I saw him here two weeks ago. Today again, he scored 1-3. He’s unbelievable – he looks fast beside fast fellas. When someone is like that, they’re special. I thought our lads fought bravely against him in the first half but good players are patient and they wait for their chance. His chances came and we were struggling to hold him.”

St Martin’s had actually made a reasonable fist of things in the early exchanges. They scored the game’s opening two points and led by 0-5 to 0-3 after 16 minutes. Joe Coleman came in for their injured young star forward Rory O’Connor and was by a distance their best player, potting frees from all angles and slapping over a point from play on the quarter-hour.

It was November hurling, slow and physical on the soft ground. And under those terms and conditions, St Martin’s were no forlorn hope. Daithí Waters, the long-time Wexford football stalwart, was clearing plenty of ball and in Joe and Jack O’Connor, St Martin’s had a couple of leggy half-forwards who were well able to win possession and draw frees for Coleman to cash in on. As long as they were able to keep O’Callaghan at bay down the other end, this was a game.

But Cuala’s young full-forward is a rapacious hunter. He had six possessions in the first half and tried to score a goal with them all. A couple of times, he was gang-tackled and crowded out; for another, he was blocked and Jake Malone bundled home only to see the umpires to call a square ball. It was justice deferred, rather than denied.

On 18 minutes, Moran belted a long free down to the inside forward line where O’Callaghan sprinted out, gathered, pulled a dainty pirouette to leave Conor Firman on his heels and skated in on goal. Malone, who had the good sense to run from wing-forward to the edge of the square any time O’Callaghan was in possession, picked up the pieces after the full-forward was blocked and Cuala were 1-4 to 0-5 ahead.

Less than a minute later, O’Callaghan was out in front again to collect, this time heel-digging away from Firman on the St Martin’s 45 with a direct route to goal in front of him. he drew goalkeeper Luke White and batted a handy finish past him. Cuala were five ahead, just like that. They kept St Martin’s at a respectful distance from there to the long whistle.

“It took us a while to open us the space,” said Cuala manager Mattie Kenny afterwards. “It took us a while to get into out rhythm. But we expected that. No matter what way we set up, there’s always 15 guys who want to stop you. Full credit to them, in that first half they really pushed us.”

Cuala: Seán Brennan; Simon Timlin, Cian O’Callaghan, Oisín Gough; John Sheanon, Seán Moran, Paul Schutte; Jake Malone (1-1), Darragh O’Connell; Seán Treacy, Colm Cronin (1-1), David Treacy (0-6, 0-4 frees, 0-1 65); Colum Sheanon (0-1), Con O’Callaghan (1-3), Nicky Kenny (0-3). Subs: Cian Waldron for Cronin, 51 mins; Niall Carty (0-1) for Con O’Callaghan, 51 mins; Ross Tierney for Cian O’Callaghan, 53 mins; Shane Stapleton for C Sheanon, 57 mins; Brian Fitzgerald (0-1) for Kenny, 57 mins

St Martins: Luke Whie; Willie Devereux, Barry O’Connor, Conor Firman; Daithí Waters (0-1), Aaron Maddock, Páidí Kelly; Harry O’Connor, Mark Maloney; Jake Firman, Joe O’Connor (0-1), Jack O’Connor (0-1); Ciarán Lyng, Joe Coleman (0-11, 0-8 frees, 0-1 S/L), Mikey Coleman, Subs: Darren Codd (0-1) for M Coleman, half-time; Michael Codd for J Firman, 40 mins; Ben Maddock for B O’Connor, 49 mins; Philip Dempsey for Devereux , 60 mins

Referee: David Hughes (Carlow)

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