David ‘Dotsy’ O’Callaghan announced his retirement from the Dublin hurlers less than a fortnight ago, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less busy; there’s no such thing as retirement for a man whose life is Dublin hurling.
A St. Mark’s clubman, the 34-year-old could hardly spare the time for a quick chat in the Tallaght club’s dressing rooms. Dotsy had just spent the morning coaching kids in the club’s nursery, the next generation nurtured by the man who led a generation.
“Jaysus, it’s been my whole life. I’ve been on development squads from under 13/14 so it’s been a massive part of my life.”
He played both Gaelic football and hurling for Dublin, debuting in 2003 in football and 2004 with the small ball.
Yet, it hasn’t been straightforward for the Tallaght native. In early 2015, Dotsy had to leave his boyhood club and join Ballyboden St. Enda’s in search of top level hurling in the twilight of his career. He was keen to highlight a crisis in south-west Dublin upon his departure.
“I suppose at the time I went to Ballyboden with probably Mark’s blessing, we were struggling with an adult team so there was a bit of a fear where that was going. Obviously I didn’t want to leave myself at that stage without a club.
“Ballyboden were very good to me, very welcoming to me. Probably at that stage I was already starting to feel a little bit burned out with the hurling and probably didn’t end up giving them a full commitment as much as I would have liked or they would have liked,” Dotsy says.
Yet, he’s returned to Mark’s, things have gotten better and Dotsy was able to come back to Tallaght and help rebuild. He smiles again and humbly accredits the strides the game has made in the area over the last few years to many others involved.
“Yeah, not all down to me now,” Dotsy jokes.
“There’s a lot of work going in, I know from Mark’s here, being back involved and obviously the work in the local schools. There’s massive interest, massive support from the local schools. It’s building up here again, it’s just exposing children to I suppose a good standard if possible.
“A lot of the bigger clubs will get a lot bigger numbers. Obviously hurling is a game you need to be playing at a high standard. You just want to expose kids to as high of a level as possible maybe when they’re younger.”
However, Dotsy is perhaps better remembered for his exploits in the sky blue jersey. From 2008, he focused entirely on hurling and became a key player for Dublin under Anthony Daly and ultimately became a part of what was to be a ‘special’ time for Dublin hurling.
It became a journey. In 2008, Dublin were one of the weaker counties in Leinster. Two years previous they were beaten in the preliminary round and in 2007 they were well beaten by Wexford, who were acres behind All-Ireland champions Kilkenny themselves.
“It was [a journey]. There was obviously lot of work gone in from development squads and people all over the county at underage level as well. So that work they had done was the basis. I suppose Anthony Daly was the guy who has come and will bring that altogether.
“It was just a big adventure kind of, going around and facing the traditional hurling counties.”
Dublin made forward strides from 2008, finally getting over the Wexford hurlers in 2009 and coming within six points of Kilkenny in a Leinster final the highlight.
In 2011, the breakthrough came. Daly’s side marched past Kilkenny to reign victorious in Croke Park and claim the National Hurling League Division 1 title.
Dotsy, however, feels it should have inspired that team to more in the Leinster Championship.
“It should have maybe (given Dublin confidence), but again that was a special day and to be hammering Kilkenny in Croke Park was nice. But at the end of 2011 they did get back at us. We kind of froze on the day to be honest with you, just disappointing.”
The year was not to finish on such a sour note, however. Dotsy and his teammates rallied to dismiss a young Limerick team and set up an unprecedented All-Ireland semi-final with champions Tipperary.
“We bounced back to the semi-final and, again, another huge day for Dublin hurling.
“[We were] not that far off getting to an All-Ireland final,” he proudly recalls.
That sensational year was followed up by a step backwards in 2012 as Dotsy and his teammates were relegated from Division 1A and crashed out of the Championship early on. Dotsy’s less adamant to go into detail about that year but the future was in fact to be bright.
In 2013 Daly’s men sealed promotion back to Division 1A and took a replay to defeat Wexford after two performances Dotsy describes as ‘really poor’ in brutal honesty. Old foes Kilkenny were up next and Dublin refused to lie down, snatching a draw to set-up a replay.
“There was definitely a belief in the squad, I think that we just smelled that it was there for us to go and win that.”
Dublin took the game to Kilkenny and emerged victorious, much to the ecstasy of fans and players alike.
“Obviously we were really ready. I think we were as ready for that game as we ever were so to go on and win that was magical.
“There was a real sense of it’s now or never, and then obviously to win that then and have a Leinster final the following week.
“Going on to win the Leinster final, it was just a special few weeks.”
Success has been hard to come by in Dublin hurling since that Leinster victory. Daly was replaced by Ger Cunningham and now Cunningham has been replaced by Pat Gilroy.
A lot of the players in that squad have since moved on and a new generation emerged, but until his recent retirement there had been one constant, Dotsy.
“I look back fondly now and I suppose the last week or two looking back you think about the greatest times, memories and friends you made and that’s probably more important or as important as winning stuff.
“I suppose from my point of view, we got up the steps a couple of times, we didn’t manage to get up there in September but hopefully in the next couple of years, something like that can be achieved,” he says.
Dotsy has worked as a Games Promotional Officer with Raheny GAA club and speaks about the massive surge of interest in hurling. At the county final in Parnell Park last month, children invaded the pitch at half-time as usual. Children didn’t only invade with their footballs, they brought their hurls.
Dotsy is a man on a journey. After 15 years involved with Dublin GAA as a player, the journey isn’t over. He defined a generation, spearheaded a renaissance of Dublin hurling that lasted half a decade.
Now he aims to nurture the next generation of hurlers, and it all starts in the St. Mark’s Nursery.