Dublin’s David O’Callaghan. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE
CONOR MCKEON – 07 AUGUST 2013 02:30 PM
WERE you to put ‘Dotsy’ O’Callaghan’s season ‘under a microscope’, the only conclusive assessment one could make is that the St Mark’s man is simply built for the big games.
Either that, or his timing is impeccable.
Go back – way, way back – to Division 1B, hurling’s wasteland, then as deeply unfashionable with the trendsetters of the game as tracksuit bottoms with shoes, but which has since spawned two provincial champions.
Anyway, O’Callaghan’s spring was decidedly patchy, spiking only when it was truly needed. Whether that was by coincidence or design, only he will know.
It started with five unremarkable minutes against Offaly, a fortunate 1-1 in Casement Park and then a single point contribution on the night that Dublin lost to Limerick in Croke Park.
Suddenly, the trip to Wexford carried an edge, a season-saver before it had really begun. And O’Callaghan scored 1-3 in a rout of Liam Dunne’s men.
A couple of weeks later and he was eschewing all manner of leadership and craft again (albeit not so much a scoring threat) down in Thurles, winning ball, drawing defenders and attracting fouls as Dublin achieved their only stated ambition of the year by climbing out of 1B’s murky backwaters with something of a revenge defeat of Limerick in the divisional final.
Dublin with an in-form ‘Dotsy’ is the best sort of Dublin there is, so the signs were good as the summer dawned and then … scoreless and subbed in Wexford Park followed by a fruitless half hour in Parnell Park during the replay.
So O’Callaghan started the drawn Kilkenny match on the bench, yet to say his form has been redemptive from there would be to understate in the extreme.
“Maybe as you get a bit older, you start to appreciate things and I’m just trying to help out the whole squad and make whatever contribution I can,” he says with typical modesty.
“I’m enjoying it. There’s a great buzz in the squad and a great unity there and I’m really enjoying being a part of it.”
O’Callaghan only scored a point after coming on in Portlaoise that evening, but his impact was profound. He won ball after ball, was fouled for three frees and demonstrated a blade-sharp touch under some pretty heavy scrutiny.
The theory in Dublin about O’Callaghan has always been that if the right ball, a very specific pass that bounces out in front of him in a couple of yards of space, is plentiful, he is close to unmarkable.
After the drawn Kilkenny game, that gave way to a secondary thesis – that once he calibrated his shooting and located his confidence to have a go, O’Callaghan would arrive back into the absolute prime of his form.
So it went. A week later, he tortured Jackie Tyrrell, sticking points over from his weak side and from the sideline in a four-point burst before half-time, but we had him contributing directly or indirectly to a total of nine scores.
“We’ve been in the Leinster final before and we hadn’t won one,” he reflects of the aftermath of that unexpected, brilliant evening for Dublin hurling, but more specifically, this Dublin hurling team, in Portlaoise.
“Obviously it was great to get the win against Kilkenny, but we were all very much aware very quickly that we had a Leinster final (to play).
“We didn’t have time really to get carried away. We’ve had good and bad experiences, so there’s a good bit of maturity in the group.”
And in the Leinster final, he hit four again and if anything, became even more influential as all that slog and 2012 heartbreak, frustration and self-doubt gave way to silverware and real, indisputable success.
“I suppose we’d have good faith in ourselves as hurlers as well and maybe we were gaining in some confidence as we were going along as well,” he says now of that slow-burning Leinster championship that finished in a blaze of glory.
“Every team will have questions about them coming into the championship as well. There’s nerves and stuff as well. But as you’re playing you become more natural and less nervous and stuff.
“Look, we enjoyed it, we enjoyed the victory, but life moves on and there are a lot of us there a couple of years as well, so the next challenge is coming quick and fast. You don’t be long refocusing and looking forward to the next big one.”
Last year, O’Callaghan lost his father, suffered with illness and injury and was a bit part player as Dublin found life after 2011 increasingly turbulent.
“There was a lot of soul-searching done alright,” he recalls now. “But there’s great camaraderie there though within the squad and a great bunch of fellas there.
“You become friends and very close to lads over the years. Personally it was tough after the bad year, but ultimately I always wanted to come back and see what we could do.”
Turns out, it was pretty spectacular. And yes, if the season finished on Sunday, O’Callaghan and Dublin could reflect fondly on a year of redemption and success.
It is in their nature, however, to look for more.
“I don’t know about peaks and stuff,” O’Callaghan shrugs. “Ultimately the further you go in a championship, you’re going to have to play better and better.
“The performance the next day is going to have to go up again because it’s an All-Ireland semi-final,” he concludes. “I don’t know, hopefully we can improve on our performance, because I think we’re going to have to.”
He’s been showing them how all year.