BY DENIS HURLEY
IT scarcely seems believable now, in the wake of a heroic championship debut for Cork on Sunday, that Michael Cahalane is only back playing competitive GAA with ten months.
His goal in Thurles was crucial to Cork’s win against Tipperary, and it was no surprise that manager Kieran Kingston reserved special praise for the Bandon man.
‘That’s like a fairytale,’ he said.
‘I’m delighted for Mikey, not just for the goal, but more for himself, what he’s come through, where he has been.
‘He’s only back hurling with us the last six months but he’s away ahead of his curve in terms of his recovery. It was great to see him get on the end of that. I was delighted for him, and obviously for ourselves as well.’
The August 6th edition of The Southern Star last year carried a brief report of Bandon’s county IHL Division 2 clash with Carrigaline. While the Lilywhites lost by 2-18 to 2-17, the club notes said the game ‘was notable for the return to competitive action for our former underage star Michael Cahalane after an absence of over two years away from the playing fields of Cork.
‘Michael was introduced as a 29th-minute substitute after the hardworking centre forward Thomas O’Donoghue sustained an accidental leg injury.
‘Michael’s first touch was a splendid long-range point off his right side, quickly followed by a similar effort off his left side and these scores made it 0-8 to 2-7 at the small whistle.
‘Michael shot over another point on the re-start, stroked over a long-range free and then netted a goal after reacting quickest to a loose ball in the parallelogram…whereas we lost it felt like a victory with the return of Michael.’
Bandon would go on to do a double of county premier intermediate hurling and intermediate football in 2016 and chairman Colman O’Mahony doesn’t downgrade the importance of that evening.
‘I think he got 1-5 or 1-6 that night,’ he says.
‘I don’t know if there was a hundred people there, but the whole place just lifted and it lifted the entire hurling campaign to another level.
‘They had already taken the scalp of Charleville, but with Mike back they were almost unbeatable.’
Having been told in the late spring of 2014 that he would have to stop playing due to heart issues (an ultrasound revealed that he had an enlarged and he was advised against playing), to get back on the field was an achievement. Belief never wavered that he would overcome such a setback, but even in the darker days, self-pity was never allowed in.
‘My abiding memory is after we won the junior football in 2015,’ O’Mahony says.
‘Mike was still out of action then and he was working in the bar in the pavilion that night, serving drinks to fellas he should have been playing alongside.
‘Everyone was celebrating, but at the same time I think Mike was in a lot of people’s thoughts.
‘It just goes to show what a great clubman he is, someone else in that scenario might never again have gone near the club.
‘The year that he was told to stop playing, in 2014, that summer he got involved with the U16 team, helping to coach them. He’s just a phenomenal young fella.’
That was always evident on the field, according to O’Mahony.
‘He was the best underage prospect I had ever seen,’ he says.
‘You might often see a lad at U12 or U14 who’s way better but it wasn’t down to physique with him, it was the skill that stood out.
‘You have to remember that he’s a seriously good footballer too.’
And yet, character as much as talent has always defined Cahalane.
He played senior hurling in each of his six years at Hamilton High School, the central figure in a side which reached the Dr Harty Cup semi-final in 2013. The manager of that team was Aidan O’Donoghue and he recalls a strong temperament, on and off the field.
‘Nothing ever fazed him,’ he says.
‘He often came in for special attention from teams and it didn’t knock a shake out of him. I never saw him pull a stroke in retaliation, which is incredible when you think of it, considering he got plenty of it.
‘He was always modest and level-headed, there was never a fear of him losing the run of himself.
‘You’d nearly be slow to even talk to him about hurling as he’d almost be embarrassed to talk about himself too much.
‘On the field, he might have nearly always been the best player on the team but he’d always be looking to bring other fellas into the game, he’d look for the best option first.’
On Sunday, when Darragh Fitzgibbon’s delivery eluded the Tipperary defence, the best option was certainly to plant the ball past Darren Gleeson.
‘When he got the ball, I felt that the right man had it,’ O’Donoghue says.
‘I knew 100 percent that he was going to finish it. It was his first touch and it didn’t knock anything off him. It was fairytale stuff, you couldn’t have scripted it better.
‘It’s not too often a Kilbrittain man would be cheering a goal by a Bandon man, but thing about Mikey is that everyone wants him to do well.’
It was the dream finish, but O’Mahony is certain that it’s only the beginning.
‘It was like fate that the ball should run through to him, a date with destiny,’ he said.
‘I was sitting next to his father Paddy and it was just such a fantastic moment. And the thing is that this is only the beginning. He’s an incredibly talented player and I think, with a year under his belt, we’ll really begin to see the best of him.’