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'There’s no better feeling for that young fella' - Cahalane's Cork comeback after heart problem

The return of the Bandon youngster to inter-county action was a rousing sight.

Michael Cahalane celebrates his late goal for Cork.
Michael Cahalane celebrates his late goal for Cork.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“LET’S BE HONEST, the game of hurling is secondary to what that man and his family went through.

“And you know what, whatever about Michael, I’d love to meet his mother and father right now.

“They must be the two proudest people here.”

Diarmuid O’Sullivan captured the mood perfectly with that summation in Semple Stadium yesterday.

The victory was one source of joy in the Cork camp. The identity of the key goalscorer was another that caused widespread delight.

As fairytale debuts go, it’ll be hard to surpass Michael Cahalane’s.

In the 66th minute yesterday he made his senior hurling championship bow. Two minutes later he read the flight of Darragh Fitzgibbon’s delivery, gathered the ball and drilled a clinical shot to the net.

It was the critical score in clinching Cork’s victory over Tipperary and all the more remarkable considering Cahalane’s journey.

“(I) couldn’t be happier for him, he’s a gent,” said Cork forward Conor Lehane.

“To see him come on, he’s been hopping in training and coming on in league games.

“I wasn’t overly surprised that he came on and did something, and made a difference.”

“It’s a great story,” remarked goalkeeper Anthony Nash.

“He’s a top man, he’s a great fella to have back in the panel. He’s a great attitude and he’s a beautiful hurler, a class act. It’s nice for him today.”

Three years ago the Bandon youngster was in a different place. An excellent prospect after his minor displays, he received his senior call-up papers from Jimmy Barry-Murphy at the outset in 2014.

Cahalane was handed his debut against Limerick in that year’s National League, coming off the bench, and then hurled against Offaly.

However then a grave 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.

The medical advice was to bring his career to a halt, yet Cahalane with the support of his parents kept searching for a solution.

“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 summer Cahalane got the green light to return. He provided a timely reminder of his talent when scoring 1-5 in a club league game in July with Bandon. By October he had played a key role in helping his club become county champions and make the graduation to senior hurling.

Kieran Kingston was always aware of Cahalane’s ability, a selector under Barry-Murphy when they drafted him in as a teenager.

He recruited Cahalane for his 2017 panel, displaying patience in guiding him back into action. In January, Cahalane struck 0-4 in a pre-season game against Kerry and in March, he made his league comeback – three years after his previous outing – and marked it with a point in the win over Waterford.

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

“It is (great), to come on, get the ball and finish like he did,” remarked Kingston yesterday.

“For him personally – where a year ago he was just starting back to play hurling, and then to get a goal against Tipperary in the Munster championship – it’s what dreams are made of.”

O’Sullivan was not surprised to see that late goal despatched.

Diarmuid O'Sullivan Cork selector Diarmuid O'Sullivan Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“His first chance, his first break of the ball, but Michael Cahalane has been doing that since he was 14 years of age.

“It’s justified. He was unbelievably unlucky not to start.

“But it’s his mother and father and the justification for the journey that lad and his family have been through.

“There’s no better sight. There’s no better feeling for that young fella right now.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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