Sport has a habit of pounding you relentlessly to the point of sometimes losing focus and forgetting why you started out in the first place.
Few can nod their head in agreement more to that sentiment than Pearse Óg captain Shane Callan. When he’s not busy dealing with the financial affairs of customers in his day job as a bank manager, he’s sweating blood, sweat, tears and anything else you could wring out of a towel between the white lines of a gaelic pitch.
As a member of an underprivileged sport in this county, Callan has had to ply his trade away from the spotlight of mainstream local interest. Not that he’s bothered about that. The love of the game keeps him going.
Sunday’s final will see him cross swords with old rivals Knockbridge. For many years Callan has nursed heartbreak after heartbreak (five-in-a-row to be precise) as Knockbridge repeatedly beat Pearse Óg to the county’s top prize. It was a time of suffering and seething. Waiting and planning. Dreaming and even praying.
But, now with Pearse Óg on the brink of an historic three-in-a-row of senior county titles themselves, can the Louth star believe such a thing is within their grasp?
“I’m captain this year and it would be special to me and my family if I could lift the trophy for a three-in-a-row”, explains Callan with a light in his eyes. “I played in five defeats in a row to Knockbridge and it was hard to envisage getting to this point.”
But here they are. Ready to complete something that was beyond comprehension just five years ago. Having beaten Knockbridge just two weeks ago in the round robin stage of the championship does Callan believe his side have an edge this year?
“I wouldn’t say we’ve an edge,” begins the 29-year-old. “Two years ago we won all our games and last year they beat us before the final, so I think we’re evenly matched and it comes down to the day.”
They may go in as favourites given their recent success in the tournament, but it hasn’t been the best of years for the club in terms of preparation. It’s even a slight surprise that they are in the final in some respects.
“It’s been a bit of a turbulent year to be honest,” begins Callan. “Brendan Mulholland our manager for the last few years had to step away around the end of June, but Martin Myles and John O’Brien, two clubmen, have stepped into the breach and have done a great job. We also lost Domhnall McArdle from last year’s team but we’ve added Mike Lyons, Brian Minogue and Gavin Harnett which as been absolutely brilliant for the club.”
Those additions have certainly freshened things up for the Dundalk side. And although Callan is reticient to put any one player on a pedestal, he’s been delighted with the progress of certain players this term.
“I will say Richie Scanlon has come in after being a sub for the last few years and been excellent at corner back and Gavin Harnett was injured a lot of the year and came back to score three goals against Knockbridge last week, he’ll be a marked man now.”
As always, for a man with a love of a marginalised sport, talk turns to what can be done to build on the foundations of hurling in the county. Callan has a few ideas on that topic.
“I would love to see the football clubs embrace hurling, I think the championship group games could be paired with a football match too and more people would see our efforts, playing in Darver on Tuesday or Thursday nights isn’t ideal.
“I think the game at all levels has improved since I started out. Fitness levels are better, diet is important and you can be left behind very easily. The class and skill of the likes of Kilkenny and Tipp, it’s hard to believe it’s still an amateur sport.”
He may be touching on 30 and perhaps he’s only got a few more playing years left, but you get the feeling that Callan will be involved in anything and everything involving a hurley or sliotar for a long time to come.
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