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‘It’s all I ever wanted, to be playing with Cork’

Thursday, 22nd June, 2017 9:51am

At the beginning of May, Cork were 10/1 to win honours in Munster, the worst odds of any of the five teams competing in the provincial championship.

Just a few weeks later and 2016 champions Tipperary and runners-up Waterford have been sent down the qualifier route and Cork are looking forward to a Munster Final on 9 July.

Much has been written about the injection of youth in to this team; manager Kieran Kingston has introduced one new starter into the five outfield lines; with Colm Spillane, Mark Coleman, Darragh Fitzgibon, Luke Meade and Shane Kingston all now regulars. 22 year old Michael Cahalane is also a newcomer to the scene, although his route to becoming a Cork senior hurler was a little more complicated than many of his team-mates.

The Bandon native has made a huge impact as a substitute this year, scoring a goal upon his introduction against Tipperary and a point against Waterford last Sunday.

Cahalane admits the win over Waterford is somewhat of a duck off the team’s back, putting back-to-back performances together, a trait that has been missing on Leeside for the last number of seasons.

“Waterford was a great win, after the Tipp game there was a bit of pressure to put back-to-back performances together,” says Cahalane.

“We’d been concentrating on it, we had a meeting after the Tipp game and the management said straight away we have to put back-to-back performances together. They put a huge emphasis on it and obviously that was going to have to be the way.”

Cahalane grabbed many of the headlines after the Tipperary win as it’s a game he may never have played in at all. Cahalane, a promising underage hurler that had been pinned by many as ‘the real deal’, was coming out of minor ranks and on the radar of the senior set-up when he was told he would have to give up hurling due to a previously undetected heart condition.

A couple of years later, Cahalane’s name is back on the lips of fans, not just throughout Cork, but around the country, such is his impact for Cork in 2017.

“Things are going well for me alright, you’re always disappointed when you don’t start but it’s nice to come on and get game time. There’s good competition in the panel so I’m just trying to make sure that when I come on I’m doing something.”

His progress, he acknowledges, is “unbelievable”. “It’s great although I am getting sick of people talking about me!” he says with a smile, “but it’s a good story anyway is the only thing!”

After being given the all-clear to return to hurling, Cahalane has won two county titles with his club Bandon and is now looking forward to his first-ever Munster Final at any level. “I just want to play and everything is good with me, thank God. The last couple of years, it was very tough. I was on the panel when I was 18 or 19. I was just out of minor and it’s all I ever wanted, to be playing with Cork, and then to get told that I couldn’t play at all, it was very tough.

“I could only do very little, five-a-side and that kind of thing, all non-competitive stuff.

“I always had it in my head that I was going to come back. It was 50/50 and from my point of view, it was more hope than anything else. Any time I went to doctors they were very positive about things, so I was always hoping I’d get that good news and then when it came, I was delighted, it was a huge relief.

“I won two counties last year with Bandon when I came back and now to be playing in a Munster Final, it’s unreal!”

As the bookmaker’s odds will tell you, not many were expecting Cork in a Munster Final this year, and Cahalane admits: “We probably weren’t expecting it at the start of the year. We’re taking it game by game at the moment. It’s my first year on the panel so I’m taking it week by week, it’s all new to me.

“This is going to be my first-ever Munster Final, we were beaten in all semi-finals when I was underage.” Clare are Cork’s opposition on 9 July, the first time the two sides will meet in the provincial decider since 1999, a year fondly remembered on Leeside for that famous All-Ireland win with a team dotted with youngsters and newcomers. Where have we heard that one before?

Clare, however, represent a whole new ball game, their underage exploits and experience in winning titles at Under 21 grade, gives the Banner men the extra edge, says Cahalane.

“We beat Clare in the League earlier this year and we played them in a practice game a couple of months ago and they beat us well enough, so it’s hard to know.

“A few of the lads on our panel and the Clare lads would be used to playing each other but there’s so many new players on both panels, it’ll be like two new teams going at it. They have won a few Under 21 All-Irelands recently, which we don’t have, so they have a bit more experience, especially when it comes to winning finals, that’ll be a big help to them.”

The underdog tag, one which has followed the team throughout 2017, is one that suits Cork, says Cahalane.

“We’re always underdogs which we prefer, we’re trying to keep things lowkey. We’re more interested in our performances this year, we said once it didn’t dip after the Tipp game and we got another good performance against Waterford, which we did, then the result would take care of itself.”

Cahalane was speaking after receiving the 96FM/C103 award for May for his performances for his club Bandon and Cork.

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