BY NOEL HORGAN
IT would be fair to say that not everyone on Leeside was convinced Damien Cahalane made the correct decision when opting to give full commitment to the Cork hurlers two seasons ago.
Son of legendary footballer Niall, his pedigree suggested he was likely to have more to offer Cork in the big ball game, and having played a leading role in helping Castlehaven and the county U21 footballers to success in recent years, there was no doubting his potential.
His credentials as a hurler weren’t nearly as compelling, and, rightly or wrongly, there were many who harboured strong reservations about his ability to cut the mustard at the top level.
To say he was a much-maligned figure would be an understatement, but, significantly, Jimmy Barry-Murphy put his faith in him for the 2014 and 2015 championships, as did Kieran Kingston when he replaced JBM as team boss last year.
Cahalane started in all 12 championship games, and was called ashore in just one, over the past three seasons, filling the full back slot under Kingston throughout the 2016 campaign.
It was a position that had proved troublesome for Cork since Diarmuid O’Sullivan called it day, and again there was no widespread conviction among Rebel supporters that the St Finbarr’s clubman was the answer to it.
In last year’s Munster quarter-final against Tipperary, Cork played with a sweeper at the back, aware of the threat carried by Seamus Callanan at the edge of the square for the Premier County side.
Even with that, Cahalane found Callanan a bit of a handful, as did every other full back tasked with curbing the Tipp No. 14 during their march to All-Ireland glory last year.
So, when Cork went for a conventional formation for the championship clash with Tipp in Thurles last month, the general perception was that he’d struggle when left isolated with the home side’s marquee atttacker.
That proved to be way off the mark, as Cahalane delivered a very assured performance to play a major role in Cork’s shock victory.
It drew lavish praise from Cork coach and selector Pat Ryan, who said Cahalane was immense against one of the best forwards in the country.
‘Damien gets a lot of criticism from outside the squad, but we know what type of character he is, and we wouldn’t have a bad word said about him,’ Ryan said.
Last Sunday in Thurles, Cahalane was pitted against another quality forward in Maurice Shanahan, and he again measured up in great style, repeatedly denying the big Lismore man clean possession under the high ball during the opening exchanges.
That he won his individual duel with Shanahan hands down was a huge plus for Cork, and he remained a commanding presence at the back when confronted by a number of different Waterford forwards over the course of the game.
After a few seasons cutting his teeth in the top flight, Cahalane, based on his displays against such formidable opponents in this year’s championship so far, looks ready to blossom into a full back of considerable stature at this stage.
And it can be taken for granted it isn’t only the Cork management that won’t have a bad work said about him now.