DECLAN Dalton is one of the form players in Cork club hurling this summer.
While he wasn't involved with the inter-county team in recent months, despite coming on against Limerick in the 2021 All-Ireland final, he's a live contender for a recall under new manager Pat Ryan.
A force of nature for Fr O'Neills in the league, he led with the line to the tune of 10 points in his team's 2-20 to 0-19 SAHC win over Courcey Rovers last Sunday in Ovens.
“The challenge that Courcey Rovers put up to us wasn’t surprising as we know what they bring to the table and they pushed us to the wire.”
Despite being one of the favourites to win the county, having lost last year's decider to Charleville, Dalton feels they've room to improve.
“I don’t think this was the best shift we ever put in but the conditions were tough out there for both sides and now for us, it’s all about looking forward to Killeagh. Local derby games in East Cork are unique and you have Killeagh fighting for survival.”
Dalton said they're blocking out all the noise hyping O'Neills up as champions-elect.
“All we can do is take it game by game and see where it takes us as this is a tough grade and you cannot look too far ahead as it can come back to bite you.”
Dalton is a powerful and wristy hurler and would add bulk and ball-winning to the Cork squad if rejoins club colleague Ger Millerick in red.
“I think any player's dream is to play with their county at the highest level and all I can do is to keep showing good form with my club and after that, it’s out of my hands.”
There were rumours last season that Dalton had walked away from the Cork senior hurling squad but he explained injuries were the main issue.
“I did not walk away from the Cork hurling senior squad as my problem was down to injury and I would prefer to leave sleeping dogs lie.
The attendance at this game broke records at the Ovens venue and Dalton recognises the importance his club plays in the community.
“I am sure as a club we give plenty of satisfaction to our community and let’s hope we will give them plenty to shout about as the season progresses.”
Fr O'Neills' opening game in the SAHC this season was a comprehensive 3-23 to 0-16 victory over Mark Coleman's Blarney.
Whoever wins beaten Blarney and Courcey Rovers will join O'Neills in the knockout stages.