Denis Hurley caught up with Cork star Damien Cahalane ahead of Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final
GIVEN the chance to talk to Damien Cahalane ahead of the All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final, it would be remiss of any interviewer not to start with âThe Run'.
In the closing stages of last month's Munster final, Cork held a 1-22 to 1-20 lead as they sought to resist a Clare onslaught. When a Banner attack broke down, Cork full-back Cahalane pounced, embarking on a surge up the field as the danger was averted.
The easy thing would have been to lump the ball as far away as possible, but instead he ensured he got his pass away to sub Luke O'Farrell, who in turn set up Patrick Horgan to open up a three-point lead.
Cork added two more points to make the game safe. Cahalane is happy to reflect on the episode, though keen to ensure that he doesn't hog all the credit.
âI'm still trying to find my legs after it!' he laughs.
âI saw the sliothar coming towards me and the first thing was relief that it kind of spilled out of the Clare player's hand and I was on it.
âThe next thing was probably panic, âWhere am I going to go?â. It just kind of opened up in front of me and I was looking for someone to give the ball to and to be fair Luke O'Farrell made a great run across me and I managed to get the ball to him. He passed to Hoggie [Patrick Horgan] and he did rest, while I was trying to find my way back to full-back.'
The moment arguably capped the completion of a turnaround for the St Finbarr's defender. Having been a lightning-rod for criticism in previous years, this campaign has seen him blossom and he is in a great position to claim an All-Star award.
He insists that that any barracking washes off him, and praises the Cork fans for their support this year.
âIt goes over my head at this stage,' he says, âand if you were to hang around with some of my friends on a car journey and listen to them then it wouldn't take too long to figure out why it rubs off me because they are constantly just abusing me anyway!
âMaybe it's my personality as well, but I ground myself in what I know best and that's working hard in training and constantly trying to learn.
âI'm perceived to be doing well this year and that's great, but I won't be taking it too seriously as I know that at the same time last year I was putting in the same effort and getting criticised.
âThe fans have been unbelievable as well. Going into the Tipperary game Cork brought a huge crowd in one we were given no chance. It was even bigger for the Waterford game and unreal for the Munster final.
âThe Cork people are hungry for success, I think what they are seeing is fellas giving it their all and can relate to that. Hopefully, we can go out on Sunday and do the same to thank them for their support all year.'
That Tipp game, where Cork weren't expected by anybody to win against the All-Ireland champions, was the catalyst for it all as a 2-27 to 1-26 win gave them momentum.
Was it difficult to go in in a situation where they were being written off?
âIt was tough, but I don't think fellas take it in too much,' Cahalane says.
âI think we were turning up to the Tipp game and were looking to put a bit of pride back in the jersey and come out of that game with our heads held high, whether it was a win, loss or draw. And fellas put in a good performance and we got a result so it was great in both ways in the end.
âWe have been a bit lucky that way in having competitive games every couple of weeks and even with club games as well fellas were kept on the go.
âWhere we had come from last year we knew we weren't guaranteed anything so we were going to work hard and you know the games fell right for us and we got the results along the way.'
The silverware is in the bag, but few recall that Cork were Munster champions in 2014, as that year ended with a disappointing All-Ireland semi-final defeat against Tipperary. Cahalane is ensuring that the focus remains forward-looking.
âTo win the Munster championship was great, but that's parked now and we have to forget about it and put all our concentration on the semi-final,' he says.
âThere is a mix of experience and inexperience in our squad which is great, you have it in every team. But you have a freedom of expression that's been fed down from management to the leaders, to the less experienced players, so you know everyone is going in the same direction, young or old, and if you're good enough you are old enough.
âWaterford are a serious team and are well able to change their systems in games. Everyone talks about their system, but they have the ability to change it within a game and that makes them tough to play against.
âWe know we are going to be up against it and it will be very tough, but we are looking forward to the challenge. We are going up there to try and do a job and our job is to put in a performance and not worry about the result.'