Versatile GAA talents take chance to shine in a different code

Gary Brennan, Daithí Burke and Con O’Callaghan have starred in their clubs’ runs

There were two current All Stars involved in the three senior provincial club football finals played last Sunday, which is hardly surprising. The only surprising thing, however, is that they were both hurling All Stars.

Daithí Burke and Jamie Barron may have had rather different days at the office – Barron and his club, The Nire, lost their Munster final by 18 points,

Burke’s Corofin won the Connacht final by 15 points.

But it’s a testament to both of them that almost four months after their dreams of lifting the Liam McCarthy Cup were ended on the same weekend at the semi-final stage, they’re still trucking away in a different code.


The week before we were treated to the sight of Gary Brennan bullocking around the field with great success for Ballyea, and apparently enjoying himself immensely in the process. When compared to Tony Kelly, Brennan would not immediately strike you as one of the great stylists of the game (who would?), but it was a lot of fun to watch.

Con O’Callaghan, man of the match in the Leinster U-21 football final this year, is the next man into the ring this Sunday for the Cuala hurlers in their Leinster club hurling final against O’Loughlin Gaels of Kilkenny.

Given his involvement with the Dublin senior footballers, he played just a bit part role in Cuala’s county championship campaign, only coming on as a substitute in the Dublin semi-final and final. But he has started both games in Leinster, scoring a moderately impressive 5-6 from play.

High intensity

Speaking at an AIB event last week, he said: “Playing with the [Dublin] footballers, it’s a really high-pressure environment, really high intensity as it should be. Going back to the club, it’s something different.

“There’s obviously huge intensity at this level but it’s refreshing to just put the football aside for a few weeks or months, and get back to . . I’ve always loved playing hurling so it’s great to do what I’ve always loved doing. It takes pressure off and I can just enjoy myself hurling.”

It's interesting that so many of our players see playing whichever sport that isn't their bread and butter as a release valve. For Con O'Callaghan's club team-mate Mark Schutte, this is no doubt the last, tired step of a painfully long hurling season. They'll both take serious watching on Sunday, but O'Callaghan might just be enjoying himself a bit more.

There are not many occasions when you get to see one of the best in the business in one sport try their hand at something else – that's why Simon Zebo and Peter O'Mahony keep getting offered hurleys by rugby photographers at Ireland training camps.

It's one of those great unanswerables – would Seamus Coleman have replaced Karl Lacey in the Donegal half-back line by now? How would the Dubs handle Devin Toner on the edge of the square for the Royal County next summer?

It hardly needs mentioning but Gaelic football and hurling, despite being linked organisationally, are pretty fundamentally different sports.

Gary Brennan’s effectiveness for Ballyea in the Munster club championship has been particularly enjoyable to watch.

No mug

He got a vital late goal against Thurles Sarsfields in the semi-final to force it into extra-time, and then in the final against Cork's Glen Rovers, he set up plenty in the forward line and got on the scoresheet himself with a sharp turn and shot that could have come straight from the Joe Deane playbook, so he's no mug.

A base level of skill and style is assumed here, but there still remained an element of the rough edges being shaved off him as the winter progressed.

It put one in mind of watching a group of middle-aged men playing five-aside soccer. Within minutes, it becomes clear which players are comfortable in this milieu, and the GAA lads merely dipping their toes in the ocean.

It’s not just the country accent, the O’Neills shorts, or the “Trip to Tipp” t-shirt that is somehow still alive and in the training kit pile.

It’s also a refreshing approach to physical contact, a bewilderment at any and all refereeing decisions, and a steadfast dedication to kicking the ball as hard as possible regardless of what the situation might call for. They’re probably enjoying themselves a lot more too.

Brennan has even been fielding questions in recent weeks about what he would do if the new Clare hurling management came knocking on his door, and there’s no doubt he could be influential at that level too.

Daithí Burke has already played a few minutes in a Connacht football final for Galway (in 2013, having also won an All-Ireland under-21 medal earlier that year), and if Corofin go on and win a second All-Ireland club final in three years, his name will again come up as a possibility for Kevin Walsh’s footballers.

But right now, for Brennan, and Burke, they might just feel like they’re on holidays. The serious business will more than likely lie elsewhere come next May.