Jerome Cahill’s pinch-me moment? Easy, the Tipp dressing room on the evening of Saturday, January 26.
Having hit three points from centre-forward during the county’s surprise triumph over Cork in the 2018 All- Ireland U21 decider and later impressing for Kilruane MacDonaghs in their North Tipp final win, Liam Sheedy picked up the phone last November and invited the teenager onto the county senior panel.
Their opening league encounter of the 2019 season was at home to Clare on the final Saturday of January and although Cahill didn’t make the first 15, or even the match-day 26, it was the first time he walked into Semple Stadium for a game as a Tipperary senior hurler, now part of the same dressing room which included a handful of players he had idolised as an 11-year old back in 2010.
“The atmosphere in the dressing room after the game had me saying to myself, wow, I am part of this,” Cahill recalls.
“The feeling among the group was so positive, a group you are a part of, and the manner of that performance (the home side won 2-16 to 1-11) really set the tone for the year.
It gave me a different outlook on how to apply myself. That was my pinch-me moment.
The learning continued throughout the spring and into summer, none so eye-opening as his championship debut when sprung from the bench with 10 minutes remaining in the Munster final. Little over a minute after his introduction, Cahill took control of a Dan McCormack pass before taking flight down the uncovered stand side of the LIT Gaelic Grounds.
Limerick’s Kyle Hayes tracked his every stride before putting in the tackle which saw the sliotar spill lose from Cahill’s grasp.
“Welcome to senior hurling,” said Ger Canning onmatch commentary.
“That day was a big part of the learning curve,” admitted Cahill, who, along with Jake Morris and Paddy Cadell, have been dividing their time between the county’s senior and U20 set-ups in recent months.
I was amazed at the intensity levels Limerick were still hitting with 10 minutes to go. I got a ball and got some idea to go on a run, and yet Kyle Hayes was able to track me back.
“I was the one with fresh legs, while Kyle had an hour’s hurling under his belt, and yet he was still able to hunt me down and dispossess me.”
Cahill was again used off the bench in the quarter-final win over Laois and is now bidding to land All-Ireland senior and U20 medals in the space of six days. Noel McGrath, Padraic, Brendan, and Patrick Bonner Maher achieved the U21/senior double back in 2010, with Cahill so thankful for how the panel’s senior members have absorbed him into their circle.
“It is funny, in a way, because you are watching them play in the 2009 and 2010 All-Ireland finals and you don’t ever imagine playing alongside them.
“And then, it just happens so quickly. You learn so much from the way they prepare themselves and the effort they put in. Everyone is putting in a huge amount of time to get themselves into top physical condition and into contention for a place. It is really nice to be among a group like that and of that calibre.
It sounds very cliche but the older guys on the panel do take you under their wing. Noel McGrath, Seamie Callanan, Brendan Maher, Padraic Maher, Bonner Maher, there are just so many leaders in this group. They know how to treat the younger guys coming in. That motivates you to put your best foot forward every time you go out.
Sunday and Kilkenny have been the focus since the U20 All-Ireland semi-final win over Wexford a fortnight ago, a game during which the 2016 All-Ireland minor winner struck 2-1, but come Monday morning, there’ll be no continued celebrations or sorrow-drowning as attention shifts to the U20 final date with Cork on August 24.
“You could put pressure on yourself going back to the U20s and a lot of the public would expect that because he’s a senior panellist, he should be performing way above everyone else. As a player, you must blank that out.
“If you are in that mindset, it is going to affect the group negatively because you are thinking too much about your own performance rather than the team. That is a challenge Jake, Paddy, and I have had to deal with. I think we’ve learned a lot from balancing the two. So far, it has gone fairly well.”