O’Callaghan savours a different kind of championship celebration

by Stephen Findlater

There may not have been the post-match razzamatazz but Con O’Callaghan says celebrating December’s All-Ireland senior football championship win was a “unique” and “special” experience.

The Cuala man was named PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month for his efforts with his first half goal a crucial factor for the boys in blue beating Mayo to secure their sixth successive title.

But Sam Maguire stayed in Croke Park as part of the Covid-19 restrictions while mass gatherings were set aside in place of smaller, more personal get-togethers to toast the victory.

“It was strange,” he said on Wednesday at the announcement of the award. “We spent an hour or so in the dressing rooms afterwards [as a team]. A couple of lads had to get [drug] tested and we had some fun there.

“But after that, we went back to the Gibson Hotel where we had parked and then went home to the family. Normally, there is a load of chaos, there’s friends, family, media – a huge gig, bright lights, a bit crazy and good fun.

“But you could appreciate it on a different level and share it with those closest to you. I went straight home to my parents who were sad they couldn’t get into the match but obviously delighted.

“It was unique – we would have liked the big event but there is something more important at play and it was special to share those moments with those closest to you.

“It very much did still feel like an All-Ireland. There wasn’t that massive buzz the morning after when you usually head to the children’s hospital and then, maybe, to the Boar’s Head with 1,000s of fans on the street and great craic. We had to celebrate in a different way.”

As for his role in the final, O’Callaghan admitted his mixed performance in the early stages of the game was indicative of the teams difficulties as Mayo caused plenty of kick-out turbulence.

“Whenever we play Mayo, we seem to have these titanic battles. Beforehand, we try to identify areas to exploit and say you don’t want too many turnovers.

“But it is very different in the white heat of battle, when you have a lad up your arse chasing you, pushing you, harassing you. It’s a kind of intensity you can’t really appreciate from just watching and analysing them.

“[On video] you wonder ‘how did that fella make that mistake?’ That was easy handpass or whatever. But when you are in there, you are wrecked and have no options, it’s a different thing. I, personally, had a slow enough start.

“Oisin Mullin picked me up and got a few kick-outs early on. I was thinking ‘jeez, not much is happening for me, here’. I had a shot on goal that I could have taken an easy point but tried to force it.

“That was an example of what was happening for the entire team, probably not making the best decisions. You have to ride that wave and when you do get a purple patch, really go for it.”

Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

He now has a bit of time to reflect on another title, doing some physical training in the family shed at the back of the garden but not much more.

However, if the championship does get to start on time in the spring – as currently scheduled – he reckons most will be raring to go for another championship campaign before reverting back to club action after July.

“Going forward, I would be in favour of the split season. It is fairer for all involved in club and county. It gives people a break and a defined picture of when they have to be ready.

“Whether it will or won’t happen, we will be guided by the restrictions but I think the lads will be happy to be rolling on. The teams who didn’t do well will obviously be mad keen to have another go. For most parties, they probably want a few weeks training before starting up again but most will be happy enough.”

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