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Goalscorer Michael Cahalane. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Goalscorer Michael Cahalane. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

The comeback kid: charting the return to action of goal hero Michael Cahalane 

THINK of something you love doing, so much so that it almost defines you.

Then imagine how you’d react if you were told you had to stop. It wouldn’t be nice or easy, would it?

That was the scenario faced by Bandon native Mike Cahalane three years ago, as a heart problem seemed to have signalled the premature end to a wonderfully talented playing career.

Michael Cahalane at full tilt. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Michael Cahalane at full tilt. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Having been a dual minor star in 2013, he had become part of the county senior hurling panel under Jimmy Barry-Murphy. It’s often the case that multi-talented players begin to believe their own hype and their ego progresses quicker than their skills. That wasn’t the case with Mike, who has always been characterised by humility.

Then, things took a turn, as he outlined in an interview last year.

“I had some problems with my breathing and I had a lot of tests,” Cahalane said. “They thought that it might have been asthma, but I had a heart-scan, an ultrasound, and they found a problem with it. It was an enlarged heart and I picked up a viral infection. To be told that you can’t play anymore is tough to take.”

Bandon suffered in his absence but, backed by his parents Paddy – a hurling selector with the club – and Jo, hope was never abandoned.

Michael Cahalane getting a Rebel Óg award in 2013, in the company of parents Paddy and Jo and sister Emma. Picture: John Tarrant
Michael Cahalane getting a Rebel Óg award in 2013, in the company of parents Paddy and Jo and sister Emma. Picture: John Tarrant

“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,” he says.

“Most people that we went to after taking the medication were positive enough, the results were improving and I never really gave up hope. I got the all-clear in late June and went back training. I’d have known myself with the breathing if it wasn’t right, everything went fine so I was happy enough to plough on. The touch wasn’t too bad, it was more the fitness.”

His first game back was a county intermediate hurling league Division 2 clash with Carrigaline on July 29 of last year. Having been named as a sub, he was introduced just before half-time when Tom O’Donoghue suffered an injury.

Michael Cahalane racing away from Kilworth's Kieran Lane in his championship comeback last summer. Incidentally he wore the same number 24 as a sub for the club. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Michael Cahalane racing away from Kilworth's Kieran Lane in his championship comeback last summer. Incidentally he wore the same number 24 as a sub for the club. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The Bandon club notes published the following week succinctly described what happened next.

“Michael’s first touch was a splendid long range point off his right side, quickly followed by a similar effort off his left side and these scores made it 0-8 to 2-7 at the small whistle.

“Michael shot over another point on the re-start, stroked over a long-range free and then netted a goal after reacting quickest to a loose ball in the parallelogram…there was a welter of excitement at the finish of this excellent game of hurling and whereas we lost it felt like a victory with the return of Michael.”

Fast-forward three months and Cahalane was a double county medallist, premier intermediate hurling and intermediate football with the Lilywhites.

“Everyone had been brilliant all along,” he said, “even the last couple of years, I’d have been carrying water and things like that, but it was unbelievable just to get back out there on a championship day.

“The buzz in the dressing room and the week leading up to it, you’d miss that feeling when you’re out more than anything.”

From there, the call came to return to the Cork panel, once the medical all-clear was received for him to play at a higher intensity level.

Eased into action during the league, he made a notable contribution in the win over Waterford. While the temptation might have been there to use him more, it was resisted and he was named as a sub for Sunday’s game against Tipperary.

If Kieran Kingston and his selectors were looking for him to be an impact sub, they couldn’t have hoped for better as his first touch in championship hurling was the crucial goal to open up a four-point lead, the margin by which Cork eventually won.

Michael Cahalane after the goal. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Michael Cahalane after the goal. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

“That’s like a fairytale,” Kingston said. “I’m delighted for Mikey, not just for the goal, but more for himself.

“He’s only back hurling with us the last six months but he’s away ahead of his curve in terms of his recovery. It was great to see him get on the end of that.”

Michael Cahalane of Cork in action against Pádraic Maher. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Michael Cahalane of Cork in action against Pádraic Maher. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile