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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 19 June, 2018
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'People thought he'd never play hurling again' - Cahalane's Cork return after heart problem

22-year-old Michael Cahalane played his first league game in three years for Cork yesterday.

WHEN MICHAEL CAHALANE was summoned by the Cork hurling management before half-time in Walsh Park yesterday afternoon, it represented a major personal milestone.

Noel Connors with Seamus Harnedy and Michael Cahalane Michael Cahalane (left) in action for Cork against Waterford yesterday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It was just over three years since his last senior league appearance for Cork, brought on as a substitute against Offaly with five minutes left in Páirc Uí Rinn on 9 March 2014.

Yesterday he was introduced for the injured Alan Cadogan before the interval, scored a point and did enough in helping to influence the eventual eight-point win over Waterford, to suggest that Cork have an attacker of genuine potential on their hands.

But back playing – not alone on the senior stage but at any level of hurling – is the real achievement for the Bandon player.

In the winter before the 2014 season commenced, Cahalane was drafted into the Cork squad for the first time. Jimmy Barry-Murphy recruited the then Leaving Cert student as he sought to enhance a setup that had come desperately close to lifting the Liam MacCarthy Cup the September before.

Jimmy Barry Murphy Cork boss Jimmy Barry-Murphy with selector Kieran Kingston in February 2014 Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cahalane made his debut off the bench against Limerick in that year’s National League and then hurled against Offaly. But then a serious problem emerged.

A breathing issue that was bothering him was investigated with further tests but after asthma had been ruled out, an ultrasound revealed that he had an enlarged heart and had picked up a viral infection.

Medical advice instructed him to bring a promising hurling career to a halt.

Yet with the backing of his parents, he kept looking for a way to mount a comeback.

“To be told that you can’t play anymore is tough to take,” stated Cahalane, when speaking to Denis Hurley in the Irish Examiner last December.

“Dad and Mam, first day they said that it’s like a car, if something is wrong, then you go to someone who’ll fix it.

“Most people that we went to after taking the medication were positive enough, the results were improving and I never really gave up hope.”

Last June came the news Cahalane had been hoping for. He was given the green light to return. It was a timely boost for a Bandon team in the midst of Cork club championship action.

In late July, Cahalane came off the bench and hit 1-5 in a local league game. He grew in stature as the season progressed, coped with the demands of the games and it was no coincidence that by October, Bandon had lifted a premier intermediate title with Cahalane scoring 0-3 in the final as they graduated to the senior ranks.

Cork boss Kieran Kingston was alerted by Cahalane’s club form and brought him back into the inter-county arena.

In January, he shot 0-4 from play in Cork’s opening pre-season game against Kerry in Mallow. The Cork management have been patient in ushering him back into action, before the comeback was rounded off yesterday.

Shane Fives with Seamus Harnedy and Michael Cahalane Michael Cahalane (right) in action for Cork against Waterford in Walsh Park. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“For him to be able to tog out today in the first place, given where he’s been the last couple of years and what he went through is fantastic,” remarked Kingston, when speaking after the game to RTÉ Radio’s Sunday Sport.

“To be back playing hurling number one and to be gracing the inter-county stage is beyond a dream for him.

“We’re delighted that he’s part of our panel. He’s back with us now the last couple of months.

“He’s building up his fitness and when he got his chance today, I thought he really showed up well.”

Kieran Kingston Cork hurling boss Kieran Kingston Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Seanie McGrath sang off the same hymn sheet on RTE’s League Sunday last night.

“This lad was an exceptional underage talent. People thought he’d never play hurling again.

“To see the way he performed when he came out today, he got a great score, set up another score.

“It’s a fantastic testament to him and to the medical team. It’s fantastic for his family, just great.”

Posted by on Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Kingston and McGrath were both selectors for 2014 when Cahalane was first unveiled as a Cork senior hurler. He did not emerge from trophy-laden underage teams but his talent and potential was crystal-clear.

His versatility was showcased at minor level. He was centre-back in 2012 against Limerick, midfield in 2013 against Clare and then fired 1-1 that same year against a Waterford team that would go on to win the All-Ireland minor title, and provide senior figures like Austin Gleeson, the Bennett brothers and Patrick Curran.

Cahalane’s football pedigree was also sound – he struck 1-5 twice against Kerry in the Munster minor championship in 2013 – but hurling won the race for his services at senior level the following season.

Kevin Fahey and Michael Cahalane Cork's Michael Cahalane and Tipperary's Kevin Fahey in the 2013 Munster minor football semi-final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It looked like he was lost to the sport when his career was struck down.

But he’s battled back and yesterday was a cause to rejoice.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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