‘It’s absolutely torturous' - injured Cork star Cadogan hopes to play some part in championship season
It's not long into a conversation with Alan Cadogan when the realisation comes that any story of self-pity or sorrow is off the table.
Watching on from the sidelines through gritted teeth as he nurses himself back to full health after surgery on a patellar tendon tear in his knee just over five weeks ago, it would be easy to think that the whole world is against him.
Twelve months ago Cadogan was lighting it up in the Munster SHC final against Clare – shooting 1-4 en route to scooping the man-of-the-match award – but this year he will be a ’s in the unfamiliar role of spectator when the two sides renew acquaintances in tomorrow’s provincial decider in Thurles (2.0).
“They are preparing and thinking about a Munster final whereas I’m thinking, when is my next rehab session?
“The lads are getting a buzz out of preparing for that, like I was last year, while my buzz is the rehab that I do. It’s absolutely torturous and you don’t want to be in there on your own because you feel very isolated, but that’s my buzz right now.
“It’s hard looking out the window in Páirc Uí Chaoimh to see the lads training on the pitch but every session that I do, I’m putting myself through pain to get back as quick as I can and I won’t do anything less or more than exactly what I’m supposed to do,” adds the Bord Gáis Energy ambassador.
Although only in his fifth full senior season, Cadogan views himself as one of the Rebel leaders and while it’s “a weird scenario” when out of contention, he’ll travel with John Meyler’s squad tomorrow and “play his part” – offering guidance and an arm around the shoulder to the younger Cork players.
The Douglas forward admits that the beauty of playing inter-county as opposed to club hurling means that he won’t be pushed to one side during his recovery with 24-hour access to Páirc Uí Chaoimh; meaning “you can go down there any time you want”.
While many would take their recovery as a chance to switch back into neutral, the 25-year-old has no intention of taking his foot off the throttle. You don’t develop into one of the game’s deadliest attackers by resting on your laurels, that’s not his style.
“The lads would be saying ‘Jesus, ‘Cads’ you’re after putting on a bit of weight’ and I’d be like ‘are you f*****g serious?’
“People say, ‘oh you can leave your hair down, you can go away with the girlfriend, go out with the lads and socialise’, I’d be the complete opposite.
“I’m watching my diet, I’m not leaving myself go. I’m nearly obsessed about the rehab and I’m getting narky if I’m not doing it or something is holding me up, that’s just the way I am. In a weird way, I’m addicted to it.
“I think I’m slightly ahead in my rehab. I think there’s a slight chance if Cork win this weekend I could possibly tog off or make some impression in an All-Ireland semi-final, so I won’t go on a holiday with my girlfriend.
“Someone outside of GAA will look at that and say ‘he’s a selfish f**ker’ but she understands that and it’s about having that network supporting you, if you have that, that’s half the battle.
“People outside of that don’t get it, ‘you’re a teacher and you don’t go on holidays throughout the year?’ I’m investing my time and I want to try and get a return from it, it’s such a short window and that’s what it takes.”
Former Meath footballer Paddy O’Rourke and former Tipperary hurler Kieran Bergin spoke earlier this year about how the sacrifices required to be an inter-county player weren’t worth it, but Cadogan thrives on it and demands self-improvement.
Cadogan will arrive at 5.0 for a 6.45 session with Cork – he won’t be alone either as he gets his ankles strapped and practises some shooting (it’ll be 10.0 before he finishes up) – and feels spectators and aspiring young players couldn’t comprehend what it takes to do yourself justice in the white heat of championship.
“No one knows what you do behind the scenes. I’ve no doubt fellas in Cork are going away doing these sneaky sessions on their own. We don’t stop, and that goes for every county, people think you just switch off after a training session on a Tuesday, but you don’t,” the Rochestown College business and geography teacher explains.
“You’ll be doing your gym session on a Wednesday or in the ball alley, he might say he’s not, but it’s like the fella that studies for his Leaving Cert and lets on he’s not doing a tap. You’re doing something every night.
“I barely see my friends sometimes like, they’d be asking ‘are you around tonight?’ and you’d be like ‘no, I have to do something’. Your hurling career is so short that you’re investing your time with a ‘this is it, no regrets’ attitude.
“If you’re preparing for something, you do it right so if you go out on the field and play bad, you can have no excuses. If you’ve ticked every box and don’t perform you just deal with it.
“When you’re playing, you’re in a bubble and you don’t see anything outside that, as selfish as it sounds you’re pushing family to one side because you’re just being as selfish as you possibly can, especially in a game week.
“If I was playing on Sunday, I probably wouldn’t be meeting you. I went out for food with the girlfriend last night, I wouldn’t have done that because I’d be very structured the week of a game. You train yourself to be that way.”
Following in the footsteps of his older brother and dual star Eoin, Cadogan was taught what it takes to make it to the top when he was introduced to the inter-county environment as a teenager during ball alley sessions with Cork legends Donal Óg Cusack and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín.
It was dog eat dog with Cusack always spouting the ‘no mercy’ mantra and Cadogan has every drill and session they did logged in a diary as he describes “going in there as best friends and coming out hating each other”, such was the level of competition.
It’s a tradition and a valuable learning tool he still holds to this day – he goes to the alley in his alma mater Rochestown College on Christmas Day every year and his father even spent time spreading salt on it on one occasion to dissolve the snow and ensure they got a session in.
Missing out on tomorrow’s decider is all the more difficult given how last year’s campaign ended with the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Waterford when Cadogan was under the weather with a virus and underperformed.
He describes “hallucinating during the night” a week before the game after a cut in his leg led to cellulitis, which “knocked me out energy wise”, and he’s doing everything in his power to get back on the pitch this year, especially alongside Eoin, who switched over to join him from the footballers.
“We were training the other day playing an A vs B game and I was standing there and people know from looking at me that it’s gut-wrenching. I was looking and thinking, ‘this is actually killing me’,” he explains earlier this week.
“Sometimes I’d go to the meetings, sometimes I wouldn’t because I’d come away frustrated saying ‘f**k it, I should be playing here Sunday’. We’ve a meeting tonight before training and I’m in two minds whether I’ll go. It’s a different perspective.
“But what I can do is put myself in the best possible position – I don’t have a date in my head – and see how Cork get on if they get to the latter stages. If you put yourself in the best possible position to get back as quickly as you possibly can, you’ll be in a good place.”
He loves the carefree nature of young Rebels like Shane Kingston, Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon – they play “off the cuff” – and he has full confidence that if Cork deliver their best, back-to-back titles will be theirs.
“We’re in a reasonably good place, but this game is going to have a huge bearing on our season. Clare are going to be a different team than the last day, they’ve gone on an upward curve since they last played us,” he says.
“We’ll have to up it five or 10pc because Clare are coming. It’s going to be entertaining and it’ll go down to the wire. But if Cork go out and put in a performance that we’re capable of doing, we’ll win the game.”
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