Eoin Cadogan has bounced between hurling, football and controversy this year, but at season’s end, he’s where he wants to be – whatever the code. The Douglas man spoke to Tony Leen
AN HOUR after hearing Eoin Cadogan explain his metamorphosis from teenage bench-warmer to All-Ireland finalist we find ourselves on the top pitch in his Douglas GAA club watching the new generation of 13-year-old tearaways. Identifying the next Cadogan would be some job, if the man himself is to be believed.
“Seriously, I was hopeless,” he protests. “I was interested but I could never get my game, right up to when I was 15 or 16; I was one of the fellas kicking the ball up and down the sideline when it was raining, trying to keep warm. I didn’t just go down and say ‘I’ll start playing hurling and football and see how it goes’. I’m a driven enough kind of character, as laid-back as I might seem.”
He mentions a day with the city division’s Under 15 development squad when he stumbled off at half-time after being skinned at full-back for 3-3, pleading with the coach to spare him further humiliation. That heartless, sage mentor might have been Keith Ricken, though the now Cork IT GAA officer isn’t sure.
“Ah, he was better than he lets on,” says Ricken. “He was in a group of lads with Paul Kerrigan and while he mightn’t have been the most skilful at the time, he had that distinctive quality – to call it an X factor would be too glib – but there was that glint in his eye, that touch of devilment. When you spoke to him, he’d look straight at you, willing to learn. He listened.”
And developed. “Hard work was a lot of it,” says Cadogan, who turned 24 two weeks ago. “But I also physically developed and a lot of it had to do with my mindset. The lads in Douglas – Tom Sheehan, John Fitzgerald and Timmy Bermingham – they just persisted. They’d be ‘you’re playing full back’. I really did try to improve myself at both football and hurling, I never claimed I was a massive hurler either but you have to work on things and you have to have the mindset that you CAN improve.
“Douglas played me half-forward when I got a bit older and it was a case like ‘run with the ball and run as fast as you can’. I remember playing Castlehaven in the county semi-final and after 20 minutes they said ‘move in there midfield on Niall Cahalane..’ On Niall Cahalane?!. I was only about 17 and I was ‘here we go!’ but at that age you’ve no fear. And you learn from experience after marking Niall Cahalane, I’ll tell you that. You learn the couple of tricks. But it was a challenge, and I do like a challenge.”
Sunday’s All-Ireland final presents him with one. The smart money is on Cadogan starting against Down, irrespective of whether Graham Canty is fit enough to start. The Douglas man brings aggression and confidence to his play, a cocktail that has little truck with sentiment.
So anyone patronising Cadogan with the sop that Cork “deserve” a title at this stage ought to be outta here before the thought settles.
“No, no, no,” Cadogan stiffens. “Nobody wants to hear ‘Down won the game but Cork deserved it’. If you came across someone who says that to you, you’d tear his head off. As a group of lads, we’re desperate for success. These lads have taken an awful lot of knocks and have come back to dig out some really serious results.”
That ability looked some way off as they succumbed to Kerry in a Páirc Ui Chaoimh replay in June. Before extra time that day eyebrows were raised at the Cork substitute galvinising his colleagues. I wondered was Cadogan a little early in his tenure with the footballers to be apparently playing such a leader’s role. “Leaders? Look, we keep ourselves as a tight knit group and what goes on in the dressing room stays there. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of leaders in there that are well up to stand up.
“I do go out and try to give it my all, and if it’s a matter of trying to drive on a few more lads around us, that’s fine. No matter who’s playing beside you, everyone knows each other’s back is covered. I think there’s 15 leaders out there. I wouldn’t single myself out.”
In the battle between Cork hurling and football for the new wave of young talent, Conor Counihan appears to have won out with Aidan Walsh and Ciaran Sheehan both pledging first allegiance to the footballers. Cadogan has straddled the codes, but Denis Walsh seems to have had first call if a clash was unavoidable. So was there any strained relations when he fell back in with the football squad?
” I don’t think so. Ultimately, we’re going out to win an All-Ireland medal. Ask any of the 30 lads, if they told me to go over and watch the corner-flag and we won the All-Ireland, I’d be happy to fulfil that role. If you’re playing well in training, you’re going to get your opportunity so, from that point of view, nobody really cares who’s out there once we win the game.
“Plus it wasn’t a case that I popped back up out of the blue. I played nearly half-and-half during the League. I’d like to have been a lot more involved in the Qualifiers, but there was a drawn game against Kerry (football) and a (Munster hurling final) draw against Waterford that put me on the back foot because they were clashing.”
He never quite arrived at football training with his hurley, but double commitment is a motorway to a fast end.
“There’s been no problem this year. ‘Adapt’ would be the main word. If you were playing hurling last week you need to get back into the mindset of football then because it’s a different game. If I thought too much about it I’d probably get myself bothered.”
Presumably so he hasn’t had much time to contem-plate the mystery wrapped in an enigma that is Cork’s formline this season.
Like a lumbering full-forward, Cadogan sees this one coming.
“People keep on saying we’re not playing well, but we’re in an All-Ireland final. Kerry didn’t play well last year leading up to it and won it, so we can only focus on the Down game. There’s no point in saying we haven’t played very well, we’re there now.”
And with an All-Ireland medal in his pocket, he might share Ricken’s view that he’s not all bad – and that those formative years shaped his character.
” You’ve no fear when you’re younger,” he agrees. “I remember a fella who was 6’3” and I was only after turning 17 and bouncing off him like a brick wall. I hurt myself, but I thought ‘I’m gonna drive on here’.
That he’s done.
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