CLASS really is permanent, and that came to mind when John Paul O’Callaghan scored a crucial goal for Diarmuid Ó Mathúnas in their South West JAHC round-one win against Newcestown last weekend.
How often has O’Callaghan come to Mathúnas rescue during the past 15 years? What a pity nobody ever kept track of his scoring exploits since he first played junior with the Castletown men. Somebody ventured on Saturday night that over the past decade he must have registered 90 per cent of Mathúnas’ scores. It might not be quite that high but it was the importance of the scores that really makes O’Callaghan such an unique talent.
The manner in which he saw the chance on Saturday night, made the space and drilled the ball low to the net was classic opportunism.
After last season’s heavy final defeat by Clonakilty, O’Callaghan was intent on hanging up his boots but, thankfully, somebody convinced him to carry on for another year. He’s a player who lights up the hurling championship every season, one you go to see in action just to watch a good hurler displaying the skills of the game. O’Callaghan never got a run in the red jersey, even at intermediate level – his lack of size probably the cause of that – but on the club scene he has been a colossus here in Carbery.
Having watched the South West junior hurling championship for over half a century we could pick out a dozen players who had that extra class, that special something that excited the crowds. Some call it charisma, some call it talent. O’Callaghan is right up there among the very best, a player we love to watch in action, as were players like Chris Corcoran, Red Crowley, Tim Crowley, Barry Harte, Colman Murphy, Jimmy Forristal, Paudie Crowley, Mark Foley, Tony Crowley, Mícheál Holland, Pat Tobin, Denis Healy, Dan Dwyer, Noel Crowley etc.
The previous week we had watched Karl McCarthy, a veteran of 20 championships, winning the game for Kilmacabea footballers and along with O’Callaghan on Saturday night, one of Mathúnas’ best players was David Nyhan, another veteran of the side.
At a time when many give up in their twenties because of the heavy demands of training and commitment, on top of ordinary life, it’s great to see these veterans dominating our games. Time was when they were a common sight, now players in their thirties are a rarity. Long may they continue.
Does the fact that these veterans claim man-of-the-match awards mean that we are short of good young developing talent here in West Cork? Not so. On Saturday night two of the best hurlers on the pitch were the O’Donovan brothers for Mathúnas, Kevin and Gearóid.
Only two years out of the minor grade, Kevin has already established himself as one of the best junior hurlers in the division and has a great future ahead of him, if everything goes well. He has even two years as a Carbery senior under his belt and was a Carbery Junior All-Star last year.
Younger brother, Gearóid, was a minor last season and he has established himself as a vital cog in the Mathúna defence. Physically stronger than Kevin, he could develop into an outstanding defender, given the right coaching and the right opportunities.
Both brothers should have successful third level hurling careers but where do they go from there? To wear the red jersey is the ambition of every young hurler in Cork but playing club junior hurling in West Cork isn’t the easiest way to that goal. Both will stay loyal to their own club, Mathúnas, and rightly so, but unless Mathúnas win the junior county, what chance will they have to star on the biggest stages in the county? What chances did John Paul O’Callaghan get to showcase his amazing scoring talents down the years?
Unless the Carbery division puts a strong senior team on the pitch each year for the championship and become serious contenders, then good young West Cork players like the O’Donovans will never get a real chance to progress. That is why we get so angry at the state of Carbery hurling, at the clubs and good players who refuse to support the Carbery senior team and at the county board who refused to allow a Carbery team into the new county premier U21 hurling championship. What vast eternal plan would it spoil if they were allowed to compete?
Last weekend a strong Duhallow team advanced to the next round of the county senior hurling championship. They included several Cork senior players in their team, and several U21s. The Duhallow division has made tremendous strides in hurling during the past 20 years, through good planning, hard work and support from the county board. All credit to the people involved but there is no reason Carbery hurling can’t follow the same path. Duhallow are allowed to participate in the county U21 championship, why not Carbery?
Until such time as hurling in Carbery reaches the same heights as Duhallow, then players like John Paul O’Callaghan will never get the honours they deserve and young developing players like the O’Donovans will never get a proper chance to rise to the top. Surely, we owe these players something more than being treated as second-class hurlers?