Damien Cahalane has been one of the stars of a special Cork hurling summer.Â DENIS HURLEY spoke to three people who know him well to find out what makes him tick.
A man of many talents
Current St Finbarr's manager Tim Finn: âWe gave him his senior debut in 2009, I was involved with John Hodgins at the time, he played his first game against the Glen down in PÃ¡irc UÃ Chaoimh.
âWe played him at corner-back to mark Patrick Horgan and he's probably marked him every game since!
âIt's always a bit of a risk but we had watched in a few minor games and we felt that he was well able. He had the right temperament and that bit of edge about him that you need for senior hurling.
âHe has matured as he has got older â he has kept that edge but he has maybe managed it a bit. He's still quite young, he's only 25 so he's learning all the time.'
John Considine [Cork minor hurling manager, 2010]: âIt was more the way he looked than whether he was a natural hurler. A lot of the time in Cork, we're a bit harsh on fellas who don't look the part â I always use the example of Walter Walsh, I don't know if he'd get his game in Cork at all, there'd be fellas shouting in from the stand to take him off!
âHe was playing senior club hurling with the Barrs at that stage and it was his second year minor, so he must have had something.
âFellas think he's slow and yet, you saw him racing up the field the last day. Go back a few years and he did the exact same in a football qualifier against Sligo, contributing to a big score.'
Jamie Wall [team-mate on various Cork sides]: âWe were coming back from Walsh Park in 2010 after being knocked out in the Munster semi-final.
âWe had a serious team, we had Conor Lehane, Joycey [Christopher Joyce], Jamie Coughlan, Brian Hartnett, Colm Spillane and whatever happened, we threw away that game down in Waterford.
âThe two of us were pissed off and sick, we were on the bus back and we said that we were never again playing hurling for Cork, only football.
âThe following January, I played in the Waterford Crystal hurling and then in 2012 he was on the senior hurling panel, he actually played championship that year. I remember saying to him at training, âHow did that one go?!â.'
John Considine: âI was surprised until I had a conversation with him when he was U21.
âHe had been made captain of the U21 football team and he was going hard with them, I remember talking to him and he was worried that it might jeopardise his hurling place as the league was going on at the time.
âI asked him then which he'd pick but he said that he had a slight preference for the hurling. We'd have these notions just because his father is from Castlehaven. If you look at it though, Niall is from Castlehaven and came up to play hurling for Blackrock whereas Damien is from Togher and went down to Castlehaven to play football for them. There's a difference!'
Leadership and dedication
Tim Finn: âHe leads by example, really. He has given us a great commitment over the last few years, when he has been involved with Cork, and you factor in Castlehaven as well.
âHe's mentally strong enough to combine it all. Even though he has lived in the city all his life, he still has that West Cork-ness in his breeding.
âThere was probably a perception that his hurling wasn't good enough and he seemed to be taking the brunt of the criticism.
âHis hurling is actually extremely good and he works on it â it isn't as if he can't hurl! He puts in a huge effort, physically and hurling-wise.'
Jamie Wall: âIf you had asked me as a minor, I would have just said that he was too good of a footballer.
âI still think he's one of the better footballers in Cork and it's just a shame for the footballers that he's just as effective a hurler.
âHe's a headstrong fella, in a good way. The run the last day, all I could think of was him playing minor football against Galway, he did it then too. Another time he did it for Castlehaven against us with Carbery, when he wants to go, he's gone.
âHe's incredibly powerful and he has been since he was about 19. That boils down to his attitude even in the first gym session with the U21 footballers.
âI rocked up beside Damien thinking we might go handy but then he decided we were going with CiarÃ¡n Sheehan. I was cursing him, but that was him setting out his stall, no shortcuts.
âHe has always been like that and from that point of view I'm not remotely surprised that he has stuck with it and developed that way.'
Tim Finn: âLast year, after they had had an awful defeat against Tipperary, we had a senior hurling league game away to Carrigtwohill.
âDamien showed up and played the second half â I wasn't even expecting him to attend but he turned up in his gear and played. There was probably nobody else on the Cork panel who even considered doing that the day after.
âWe didn't ask him, he just wanted to be a part of it.'
Finally receiving widespread praiseÂ
John Considine: âIf you're in the full-back line and you're losing, it means the opposition are scoring more.
âWhen you're winning, you're on the front foot and everything is easier and fellas say you're doing well.
âThe backs and the keeper get the blame when you're conceding â the highlights will only show scores and that usually means that the back is chasing some fella when the ball is being put in the net.
âYou look at player of the year awards in all sports â it's almost always an attacker gets them.'
Jamie Wall:Â âI was very impressed, after the Clare game I read his comments about the Cork fans and he was very complimentary. It would have been very easy to turn around and say, âA lot of ye are the same people who have been slating me for the last two years and it hasn't remotely been my faultâ.
âIt was a very mature attitude that he didn't go down that road and he has never gone down that road. The abuse that he has received from Cork people, in my eyes it has been a scandal.
âFor the last two of three years, I could happily say that he hasn't been among Cork's five worst performers.
âYou look at the lads that he has had to mark, he's given the hardest job every day. Last year, Seamus Callanan scored more in the first half against Waterford than he did in the whole game off Damien Cahalane, but all everyone remembers is what Callanan got off him.
âAt that level, it's so difficult to play full-back, there's very little you can do. Before this year, there was no real plan for protecting the full-back line whereas there clearly is this year with Mark Ellis, something which is almost standard anywhere else.
âNow that he's suddenly getting that protection, the performances come? That's not a coincidence and I think a lot of it is down to Diarmuid O'Sullivan. He was a great full-back but he knows what's needed in front of a full-back, he had Ronan Curran protecting him.
âIf you put your head above the parapet, lads are only waiting to cut it off. There was far too much of that going on.'
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