Kerry to Cuala to All-Ireland glory

by Gazette Reporter

AFTER a few years of punishing seven-hour round trips to Kerry for club and county training, Darragh O’Connell eventually threw his lot in with the Cuala hurlers at the end of 2014.
A teacher in a gaelscoil in Greystones since 2012, he began a part-time course in Setanta College and that helped him make the decision to put an end those arduous cross-country treks home.
It’s been a fruitful spell for the Abbeydorney native since then. Cuala have become a dominant force in Dublin and Leinster, winning three county titles and two provincial crowns in succession.
O’Connell, who has also featured for Dublin, admits he never expected to enjoy such levels of success when he made the move.
“Absolutely not,” he said at the AIB GAA All-Ireland Semi-Finals media day. “When I joined in 2014, we hadn’t won a county title since the early 90s. That was the main aim at that time and it’s funny to see how it has progressed since then.
“I knew some of the lads and I was living down in Shankill when I moved up first. A couple of lads said to come over and train with them during the winter and that’s how it came about in the end.
“I’ve got great support from everyone at home. The opportunity came but it’s different when you’re travelling up and down. It was another challenge and it’s something I’m enjoying.”
The last side to put together back-to-back All-Ireland club hurling titles was Portumna in 2009, but Cuala are 120 minutes away from matching that feat.
They arrive into a last-four encounter with Liam Mellows on Saturday on the back of a Leinster campaign where they won their three games by an average of almost 11 points.
“There is a very motivated group there. We always say that whatever happened has happened.
“All you’re doing is you’re looking forward and trying to prepare as well as you can for the next challenge and that’s how we’ve looked at this year.
“It’s a brand new year. Last year’s championship is last year’s, Leinster and county whatever it was. Now this is a new competition and we’re just looking forward to Saturday.
“These occasions don’t come around too often. We’re just focused on the game and everything else that goes on around it, you try to block it out.”
The semi-final takes place at 4pm on Saturday afternoon in Semple Stadium.

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