ikey Sheehy was peering through the gloom at Austin Stack Park as Cork machine-gunned Kerry’s MunsterU 21 ambitions again. Walking back down Boherbee afterwards, he was as exercised by the dearth of Kingdom senior potential as he was Cork’s lethal inside forward line. But the latter consideration lingered longest.
“He was one of the tastiest forwards I’ve seen Cork producing for a long time,” Sheehy would reflect later on Alan Cadogan, who posted five points from play on the night as Cork eased to a 0-18 to 2-8 win.
“He had lovely balance and movement, and he was bright and alert all through. The (Kerry) boys couldn’t handle him.”
As CV references go, it’s one to frame and hang. What Mikey Sheehy doesn’t know about inside forwards ain’t worth drawing breath for. Not that Cork’s new football management needs telling.
Peadar Healy and Conor McCarthy were acutely aware of what Alan Cadogan might do for their 2016 ambitions. And they weren’t slow in mapping it out for him.
It presented the 22-year-old with the frustrating dilemma of the modern-day dual inter-county player. Hurling or football? Cadogan’s attitude? Why not both?
“My parents have always said to me, whether it was hurling or football or life in general, leave all doors open. I’m not 32. I’m just a season out of U21, so just because I picked hurling last year and for 2016, doesn’t mean I am closing the door on football. It’s something I really do enjoy, especially going back to the club (Douglas).”
While Cadogan’s case isn’t unique, it is certainly unusual. While most dual players ultimately decide for their own betterment and well-being to focus on one code, Cadogan is frustrated and disappointed he’s being denied the opportunity to represent Cork in hurling and football in 2016.
However, management aren’t for turning on the issue, as Healy underlined when he spoke to this newspaper shortly after his appointment.
“I gave huge consideration to going back football this season,” Cadogan explains.
“I spent three or four weeks racking my brain and getting counsel about it after speaking to the Cork football management. So much so, that it was affecting the build up to my Arts Graduation from UCC. In the end I felt I had to make a call one way or the other. It was wrecking my head.”
Frustrating is a word Cadogan uses in this context, but it’s also an appropriate a word as any to describe his 2015 hurling campaign with Cork. And the season in general, come to think of it.
“In the end, I had my own personal reasons for going hurling for another year in 2016. (Brother) Eoin gave me his reasons for sticking with football and I respected that. He didn’t burn my ear in terms of my decision: ‘Do whatever you think is right’, he said. He would have liked to see me footballing, but I threw back at him that I wanted to see him hurling with Cork!
“I spoke to Peadar (Healy) and Conor (McCarthy) but ultimately I had two inter-county hurling seasons behind me — a reasonably good 2014 and a disastrous 2015, because I try to set high standards for myself no matter what I do.
“I feel I have things to prove. The fact that Kieran (Kingston) is a neighbour didn’t come into it. I wanted to prove a few things to myself. But I’ve made it clear to the two managements that this is for 2016, and not for next 10 years.”
Cadogan did attempt to broach the possibility of lining out with both squads, even on a trial basis in the early stages of the league. Neither management would countenance such an idea. “They were understanding about it. I asked them about doing both, but they said straight out that it wasn’t an option at inter-county level. I respect that, but from a fella who really enjoys playing football, it’s frustrating when you are not given the chance to play both codes.
“I am 22, maybe try the dual thing during the league to see how things progress and review it in May. But it wasn’t to be. So I spent a lot of time weighing up the pros and cons because I had to pick one. My head was wrecked from it.”
He is acutely aware that “any fella would give his right hand to play for one Cork team”, but he doesn’t apologise for craving dual success — and enjoyment.
“If I decided to pick hurling alone when I was U21, I’d have no medals with Cork. Instead, I played football and was thrilled to be part of a Cork team that won three Munster U21 Championships. I’m very grateful for that and my last year at U21 (2014) was probably my most enjoyable so far in a Cork jersey, before we lost an All-Ireland semi in the last minute to Roscommon.”
What he doesn’t add is that Cadogan scorched through the Connacht champions for one of the goals of the season that day.
“I was at a function last year in Clare when Cratloe won the Munster Club double and (manager) Colm Collins said two things that stuck with me — it comes down to the players above anything else but also the importance of really good communication between the two camps. I came away that night and I often reflect on those two important elements. If there is good communication between a pair of management teams, anything is achievable.
“Shouldn’t it be the player who decides whether he wants to pursue the dual role or not? Even at U21 or minor, I think it’s unfair on players who enjoy playing football and hurling and they are being told to focus on one. They don’t really know which way to turn. I’ve even said it to talented young lads in Douglas not to stop playing one of the codes too early.”
The Douglas speedster is in a good place to adjudicate on the thorny question of player burnout at a young age. Up to 2014, he was that soldier — club dual player at U21 and senior, Fitzgibbon Cup hurler with UCC, senior hurler with Cork, U21 footballer with Cork. Easier to discuss gaps in his diary than entries. With hamstring problems pock-marking his 2015, was he paying the price for the incessant and intolerable demands on his body?
“A couple of injuries took their toll this year but I can’t use that as an excuse with Cork. The form just wasn’t there, compared to 2014. You hear it’s going to be twice as hard in your second season, and that is true. Trying to find my form this year was tough. There was a sense of playing catch up alright, and doing rehab when I should have been hurling in the weeks leading up to Championship, but that’s the easy excuse.”
Cadogan had seldom seen the inside of a physio’s room until last spring.
“I pulled the hamstring twice in the League — against Tipp and again in the final against Waterford, after about two minutes.
“I was involved with UCC in February, then straight into league and then onto championship, but that’s the modern workload anyway. Certainly January, February and March, there is a heavy workload there if you are with college and U21.
“Hence, more and more counties are going the road of GPS monitoring of players and their workloads. It’s definitely the way to go, checking players’ loads. A lot of inter-county teams are using GPS programmes now, and we used it with the Douglas footballers this year. I was exposed to the tracking devices once or twice and I found the information you glean from it very beneficial.”
t didn’t require a GPS read-out to summarise Cork hurling in 2015.
Disappointing is a word Cadogan employs, and if he is guilty of anything it’s understatement.
“The Cork public would be expecting a team, either football or hurling, to be in Croke Park come August, and the fact that there was neither for the first time in around 25 years said everything.
“It was a difficult campaign for the hurlers. We lost the league final, then lost in the first round of Munster to Waterford again. It was in stark contrast to what happened in 2014 when we went straight through and won Munster against Limerick.
“I think confidence dropped a bit after losing in Munster. I don’t know why that is, maybe it hard to shed your provincial champions tag so early in the summer. It’s hard to readjust, then you are thrust straight into the Saturday night circuit of Qualifiers. We didn’t adapt like we should have, and though we did well below in Wexford, we had no complaints against Galway.”
New management or not, the summer of 2016 isn’t sprinkled with rose petals either.
“Munster is now very very competitive. We have a quarter-final against Tipp in May, and if we win that we play Limerick, and that’s before Clare or Waterford.
“But isn’t it right that Cork has high expectations? You’ll never be as far off as people might say. They said the same about Kerry football at the start of 2014, and they won an All-Ireland. It’s only a couple of seasons since we were 10 seconds from winning an All-Ireland ourselves.
“Things get freshened up with a new management team, there’s new thinking. Kieran Kingston is the best man for the job, he’s a business man, and is very organised. He’s been there before and has assembled an impressive back-room team so things look promising. But we’re only back a couple of weeks.”
Kingston and his aides may make systematic changes but the dearth of breakthrough talent and leaders in the mould of a Cusack, O’Sullivan, Gardiner, Deane, Kenny or Ó hAilpín is a problem that may take longer to resolve. Cadogan disagrees.
“You don’t need eight or 10 new fellas coming through every year, If one or two fellas break through, you are creating a tidy little conveyor belt. That’s how I got introduced in 2014, Mark Ellis came through the year before. You can then develop them in a good, seasoned environment.
“The Cork minors this year had plenty of promise and were very unlucky to lose to Limerick after beating them earlier — so there is stuff there.
“Lack of leaders? There’s is a good few young fellas, we are a young squad, and Kieran will probably be looking for a balance of talent and the experience of the big occasion.
“But it’s also now up to the likes of myself, Conor Lehane, and Seamus Harnedy to step up and become leaders. Just because we are 22 or 23 doesn’t mean we can’t lead by example. That’s essential in any successful team, that fellas step up an provide leadership in different ways for the group. It’s about setting standards — and that is already a message the new management team is drilling into us.”
Cadogan is squeezing in time to make a life and career for himself too. Part of his secondary teacher training is back in his alma mater of Rochestown College, sharing the staff room with colleagues who taught him for six years like Denis McDonald and Deirdre O’Connor.
“The first years are calling me Mr Cadogan and I’m wondering has my father walked into the class. It’s nice to be on the other side of the four walls of the staffroom, not waiting outside it! (Principal) Diarmuid Ó Mathúna is very good to me. It’s school in the morning, college in the afternoons, and a lot of paperwork after that.”
And that’s before the afternoon gets dark and he turns into a GAA player. “It’s school, college, training, bed. But I’ve a few days away at the end of December so that’ll be good.”