MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Life in the fast lane

The Coal Quay.

North Main Street. Washington Street. The Grand Parade. Then the Coal Quay all over again.

“Are we ever going to find somewhere to park?” says Eoin Cadogan, manoeuvring the little car through another gap in the traffic before...

“There.”

A man is hopping into a van outside the Bridewell Garda Station. He recognises the Cork player and gives a thumbs up, and when he pulls out Cadogan slides the car into the space just vacated. Out we hop for lunch.

Help yourself to the symbolism. Cadogan is one of the hardest working men in the GAA, with commitments in hurling and Gaelic football which squeeze his diary until it begs for mercy. It’s fitting, then, that when he agrees to meet for a chat ahead of the All-Ireland semi-final, it begins with a search for space.

We meet after Cork have lost an All-Ireland hurling semi-final with Galway but before they meet Donegal tomorrow in a football semi-final. The definition of a hectic fortnight.

Of course, it could have been Kerry if the All-Ireland quarter-final had gone a different way. Would that have made a difference to Cadogan and company?

“No, it’s an All-Ireland semi-final. It doesn’t matter who it is. You have a job to do, no different to the quarter-final when we had Kildare.

“We prepared well for that and took it step by step, and that’d be our approach no matter who we were playing.”

Cork’s emphatic dismissal of Kildare was the curtain-raiser to Kerry-Donegal. Cadogan and company deferred the trip south to take in the second quarter-final.

“We saw the whole lot of it. It was always going to be close, but we’d enough to worry about with Kildare without thinking too much about that game beforehand.

“Watching it — Kerry showed their experience, coming back the way they did, and might have snatched a draw, but Donegal showed good composure to close the game out. They did well.

“Would I be analysing the game as I watch? You’ve to view the game as a whole rather than saying as a corner-back, ‘well, how is the corner-forward playing there, I’ll be marking him the next day so I’ll pay particular attention to what he’s doing’.

“Positions don’t mean a whole lot now in football — or hurling. Take the Galway game, the All-Ireland semi-final. You had forwards in the backs and vice versa, the positions made no difference.”

Well, he’s brought it up. Cork were only five points behind Galway at the end of that All-Ireland hurling semi-final, but as Cadogan admits, they needed a goal and couldn’t work a chance.

Seeing as positions don’t mean that much, how did Galway’s defensive alignment look to him from his vantage point at centre-back?

“Fellas might have been saying after that game, ‘why didn’t they hit the ball in low to the forwards?’ but Galway had enough lads in place to stop that.

“It happened to me, it happened to Tom [Kenny] — and it happened to Galway as well — when you tried to play a shorter ball it got intercepted.

“We were trying to bypass their half-back line at times and we just couldn’t get the goal we probably needed to take the initiative.

“Did we panic? I don’t think so. We were only two points down on 62, 63 minutes. Against Waterford we were further behind at that stage. Galway just didn’t give us the room we wanted, and they won a lot of the breaks as well.

“That’s something that counts no matter what system or tactic you use, whether it’s hurling or football — you’ll win nothing if you don’t win the breaks.

“With the hurlers we went out to win silverware and from that point of view we didn’t get anything this year. But it’s a young team, a lot of lads are maturing and they’ve seen what it’s like to play a top team in Croke Park.

“And a lot of the players are learning what it’s like to play against a different system, how to handle that. We’ll analyse what we can improve upon and hopefully we can go a step further next year.”

In that sense, the Cork hurlers form an interesting counterpoint to their footballing counterparts. The footballers have All-Ireland medals and league medals, they know every blade of grass in Croke Park at this stage. The hurlers are still trying to acquire that experience.

“No matter how long you play inter-county you’ll always come up against a different player, a different team, a different system,” says Cadogan.

“It’s up to a player to adapt and we’d feel we can adapt and cope.

“But while you’d hear the words ‘learning curve’ about young players, it’s only a learning curve if you pick stuff up and take lessons from the games you play. Otherwise you’ll just end up making the same mistakes.

“The hurlers’ forward line, in particular, is young, but the lads will learn. They’ll take the lessons on board.”

Those lessons have already been learned by the footballers. When Cadogan evaluates Donegal, for instance, he dismisses suggestions Cork have an advantage in terms of experience in Jones’ Road.

“The playing system they use has served them well, they’ve two Ulster championships and they were unlucky against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final last year. They’ll want to go one step further this year.

“That’ll help them — the fact that they played Dublin in Croke Park last year with a huge crowd. They won’t find an All-Ireland semi-final a huge shock this Sunday.”

He knows a few of them pretty well. Cadogan roomed with Michael Murphy when on International Rules duty — “a sound guy” — and spent a “lively” couple of days in the North West with a few of the Donegal players (“there was an Old Firm game on the same weekend; it was wild, as they’d say up there”).

Does that make a difference when you cross the white lines? “Not really. A lot of inter-county players would have some kind of relationship with other inter-county players through college or the GPA or whatever, but that’s parked when you go out on the field.

“It’s like the club championship. You’re soldiering with 30 lads on the Cork panel all year, but come the club championship when you come across them on the field, you do what you have to do to win.”

Talking of the club championship, a dual player presents a unique challenge when setting fixtures at local level. However, Cadogan points out that if his involvement in both codes is delaying Cork championship games, particularly those involving his club, Douglas, then that’s out of his hands.

“We’ve only played two club games this year. After the league final defeat by Kilkenny on a Sunday we were out again on the Wednesday, so you go from a situation where you’re training with Cork all year to trying to get down to the club on the Monday night to do a bit before the coming Wednesday.

“Look, that’s out of my hands, and it’s out of the club’s hands, too. You can only play with the cards you’re dealt.

“Obviously any time you go back to your club you want to represent them to the best of your ability, and it’s a difficult time, the lads don’t get a chance to play games because we’re involved with Cork.

“It’s not just me, though — Eoin [Cotter] and Stephen [Moylan] are involved with the footballers and the hurlers. It’s not all my fault.”

An expression of mock innocence helps to deliver that line, but he’s aware that he’s seen in some quarters as a guilty party more often than not. More than one pundit has criticised him for getting involved with opponents, but those observations don’t stick in his hide.

“When you say getting involved with opponents... I don’t pay any attention to that. Lads are entitled to their own opinion.

“I’m probably a bit more focused the last couple of years, maybe I’ve matured a bit more. With time you become wiser about things.

“Saying that, you’re going out to represent your county and you’re not going to back down from a challenge. And you’re always faced with a challenge in the championship, whether that’s one minute in or 50 minutes in.

“You go out to do your best. You can’t be worrying about what other people think. It’s of no concern to me what any reporter says about any of us. We go out focusing on the job in hand.

“If we worried about people’s opinion of the team, or of certain individuals, then we wouldn’t be able to go out and express ourselves.

“We know we have a job to do every time we go out — to try to succeed. We can only focus on that. Reporters, pundits... they’re getting paid to do a job, and it wouldn’t help if everyone they spoke to just nodded and said ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

“How many fellas do you interview and you just get ‘yes’ or ‘no’ out of them? That doesn’t sell papers, or make good viewing. Fellas have their jobs to do. We don’t worry about that.”

What a player might be expected to worry about is getting himself right for so many big games. Cork footballer Aidan Walsh had a throwaway line in a Sunday newspaper recently when the dual mandate was mentioned — he said he’d seen Cadogan come to football training half-crippled on occasion, and the tone of Walsh’s comment suggested he wasn’t in a hurry to replicate the experience.

“Touch wood, being injury-free has been the main thing in playing both,” says Cadogan.

“I’d have been disappointed after the Waterford game, I went out to go as long as I could though I was under the weather. That’s not making excuses, and we knew with the likes of Sean Óg and John Gardiner that they’d be able to come straight in.

“But there’s a difference between being unfit because you’ve done too much between the two sports and being unfit just having a bug for a few days, which was the case there. I didn’t feel overly tired against Galway, for instance, though I played the previous week for the footballers.

“The future? I just have to see how the football pans out. The Donegal game is a huge game. You can’t look beyond that and it’d be unfair of me to start thinking now, ‘well, what do I have to do with the hurling next year’.

“I have a lot of people facilitating me. The managers, the other players, the club when I can’t even make it to a meeting before a game, my parents. The lads in o2 on Daunt’s Square have been hugely accommodating.”

The plates are cleared away — liver and bacon for the reporter, steak sandwich for the sportsman, who tries to offload his chips on the reporter.

Coffee? “Not for me,” says Cadogan. “Caught for time today.”


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