Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan prepares for ‘big challenge’ from Kildare

He may still strike many as Dublin football’s prodigy, but suddenly Con O’Callaghan is 26 and vice-captain.

With talk of a possible return for Stephen Cluxton, finally eliminated by manager Dessie Farrell earlier in the season, James McCarthy was an obvious choice to replace him as captain.

And if Farrell wanted to fill the gap between the senior members of the squad and those up-and-coming for the vice-captain role, Brian Fenton and Ciaran Kilkenny might have been more compelling candidates, being O’Callaghans’ three-year senior. The fact that the Cuala man was chosen speaks to his status within the group.

“Yes, a great honour, but again the most important thing is that we have leaders all over the pitch and in the dressing room,” he said. “It’s always been like that, even when Clucko was captain there were a lot of strong characters and strong leaders in the dressing room and that’s what we tried to carry on and that’s probably what we did, a lot of leaders on the pitch and on the bench .

“It’s a great honor, not the be-all and end-all, part of something bigger.”

O’Callaghan admits he brought a certain “fear” of Cluxton to the Dublin line-up when he was first called up six years ago.

“You see this guy who has won everything with a stone face and he is just an absolute champion at everything he does. He takes his football very seriously. You’re afraid you’ll make a mistake or something.

“But if you also get to know these guys off the pitch, you feel a lot more comfortable and you can express yourself on the pitch, you’re no longer afraid of making mistakes.”

His fear of Cluxton was largely misplaced, and O’Callaghan explained how he would definitely be gentler with younger players.

“He doesn’t say that much at the best of times! No, he would be very encouraging, especially for the younger guys. Obviously he has very high standards. And if you don’t meet those standards, you’ll know.

“Especially for the younger guys, since I came in he’s been a little softer[to them]and that little bit … he took you, like.”

A responsibility O’Callaghan now feels towards his younger teammates?

“There are a lot of guys who have come onto the board and brought energy and enthusiasm. There is a little gel time. They had a different dynamic and it was really good.

“As players – and of course management wants to do this – but as experienced players we want to try to bring them in, integrate them into the team and allow them to do their best.”

That’s something O’Callaghan finally had the opportunity to do recently, returning from an ankle injury he picked up in a challenge game against Roscommon in January after suffering a knee problem last year.

Club manager Paul Curran said the break would do O’Callaghan good after working “on one foot” for Cuala late last year.

“I thought I was running well, but obviously not,” he smiled. “Nah just a few smacks and pops my knee then this year my ankle we had a challenge game the week before the first league game.

“That set me back, I thought it was just a minor knock, a bit of a bruise, but a few weeks went by, it didn’t get any better.

“I ended up coming back the week after the league ended, timed so badly that I injured myself just before the first league game and came back the week after. But that’s part of the sport, it’s guaranteed to come at some point.”

Given the lengthy campaigns he’s had back-to-back with county footballers and club hurlers, it’s probably inevitable that an injury will eventually catch up with O’Callaghan, but trying to contain things isn’t on his agenda.

“Ah no, I wouldn’t really like that. Again, I love playing soccer. The more I play, the more fun I have.

“We also had a lot of great days with the club, people would sometimes ask: ‘Oh, you’ve been away for so long’, but if I didn’t want to be there I just left. I wouldn’t stick with it.”

With Kildare beating Dublin in the league there is a level of intrigue, albeit modest, with Saturday week’s Leinster final not being evident for a number of years.

O’Callaghan watched the game on TV at Newbridge while managing his recovery.

“It was strange to watch, it was obviously a massive game for both of us and they deservedly come out on top. They were the better team that day.

“That sets it up well for two weeks. They’re obviously a really strong team, lots of really good athletes, especially up front. I think they’re going over 20 points or 20 goals a game in the last four or five games.

“They bring a big threat there and then defensively they’re very tight at the back, they’re very physical so yeah it’s going to be a big challenge.

“It’s mostly about us and our performance, that’s how we see it, a full 70 minutes. Yes, we expect a huge challenge.”

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