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29 May 2022

Offaly hurling star delighted to be making most of forward opportunity

Shooting machine Cahill not looking beyond Kerry showdown

Offaly hurling star delighted to be making most of forward opportunity

Eoghan Cahill in the new Glenisk jersey.

AT the centre of a debate for a couple of years over whether he should be in goals or out the field, Offaly hurling star Eoghan Cahill fulfilled his boyhood dreams when Michael Fennelly handed him a forward's jersey in 2020.

Despite capturing attention for his scoring exploits with Birr, Cahill was the Offaly senior hurling hurling goalkeeper in 2018 and 2019. As his scoring figures crept higher, the clamour for Cahill to be handed an attacking role with Offaly grew but there were some people in favour of him staying in goals. In his 16 league and championship appearances in 2018 and 2019, he was a rock steady, dependable number one.

Some questions were expressed about whether he had the pace to be a county forward. Looking back on it now, those concerns seem ridiculous as he has developed into one of the country's deadliest forwards, putting up huge tallies from frees but also scoring with great regularity from play.

With Shane Dooley beginning to decline and a scarcity of scoring forwards in the county, Cahill's elevation up the field was inevitable but the bullet still had to be bitten. When Michael Fennelly took over as manager for the 2020 season, one of the first things he did was ring Cahill and ask him where he wanted to play – now 24 years of age, he had been outstanding as Birr reached the Senior Hurling Championship final in 2019, losing to St Rynagh's, while he had also excelled out the field for his college.

He had no qualms in seeking a forward role and the Kilkenny man immediately accepted his choice. Speaking on Thursday as Glenisk were unveiled as Offaly GAA sponsors for five years, Cahill remarked: “After that, it was a trial and error basis. It was up to me to prove I was good enough to be out the field and every time you go out, you have to prove yourself. There is no room for error any more and it is great to have that. If lads aren't performing out the field, then they shouldn't be starting. There should be someone else coming to push them away. That is the sign of a good strong squad and it is something we definitely have at the minute.”

He has absolutely no regrets, however, about the two years he served in goal and he believes they have served him very well.

“I always wanted to play out the field. It was always natural for me to hurl out the field and I have always hurled out the field for my club. It is something I always wanted to do for the county and as a child I wanted to be running around the pitch in an Offaly jersey out the pitch. I wouldn't change anything, I started out my career as a goalkeeper and that stood to me huge. It was a massive advantage to me and obviously I wasn't physically or mentally ready for the campaigns that were coming to be out the field. At that time, we were playing strong teams in Leinster and you were straight in at the deep end. I wasn't ready to be out the field at that stage.

“The goals stood to me and it was good to have those days and experience but when the chance came to get out the field, I took it straight away. It is more natural to me and it is where I wanted to be. It is hard changing from goalkeeper to out the field with the club and back to goalkeeper. Before the split season, we would go back to our club for a couple of championship games and it was like I wasn't part of it. I was on the field but by the time I was getting up to the speed of things, it was nearly over because I wasn't used to it. It was a call I had to make and I just went with it. I had to prove myself each time then and hopefully stay out the field.”

Just finishing his Masters for primary school teaching, Cahill and Offaly have received no shortage of lessons this year. They competed in Division 1 of the National Hurling League, shipping bad beatings against Galway, Cork and Limerick and competing better against Clare and Wexford before falling away. They then had a bad day at the office as they were put back to Division 2 in a relegation play off against Antrim.

“Obviously the league was tough starting off. We have picked things back up a little bit and we have our two wins against Meath and Down in the Joe McDonagh. Training has improved a lot and since the end of the league in particular, things have picked up. As you come close to championship there is no room for error and we had to hit the ground running.

“Obviously the league was tough to take. We didn't set out at the start to have six losses in the end but again on the other side, we knew the competition we were playing. We were playing All-Ireland champions and we were playing All-Ireland runners-up and on top of that you had Galway, Wexford and Clare which are very tough teams.

“We got a good performance in some of those games for different spells but we had different targets that we wanted to hit and we worked towards that. That is crucial going forward.”

He explained the approach Offaly took in games that they knew deep down they couldn't win against Cork and Limerick.

“In some of the games when playing the likes of Cork and Limerick, our goals had changed in those games and that was crucial for us. The amount of turnovers, our work rate, how we were on the ball, different things like that. You are being exposed to the speed of the game at a different level, physicality at a different level and it took us a while to get used to that. In the long term, those league games will stand to us because it is obviously somewhere that we want to get to and to get to that level, you have to be playing at that level.

“Obviously it contrasted a bit from the league campaign we had last year and winning every game and coasting through some of the games to this year and being on the receiving end of some beatings. As a county going forward, I would take division 1 over division 2 all day long. It is somewhere everyone wants to be and I know it didn't work out for us. We lost to Antrim in the relegation final but hopefully we will build on that and have a good solid Joe McDonagh Cup campaign and build on it again next year in the league.”

The Cork game brought home the extent of the gap to everyone as Offaly were blown out of the water early on.

“Obviously it is not nice. Cork got a very good start on us that day and had a couple of goals after a couple of minutes. To be honest, the game was nearly over after five minutes but I think when we have our set goals and set aims in a game and in those type of games, it is not really about winning. It is about performance and how long you can last against these top teams.

“You have to be honest. When we were playing the Christy Ring final last year, it was nearly between 17th and 18th place and Cork were in the All-Ireland final so it was one and two this year. There is a massive step there and we know this as players. We weren't going into those games blind sided by different things. We knew exactly what we were facing. It wasn't that we felt down after those games. When we came to training the following week we spoke about the speed Cork are doing things at and the strength of Limerick and how good Wexford are on the ball. That is what we aspire to and how good we want to be.

“It is tough at the time and you don't want that but it is exciting times coming to training after those games. You are playing those top teams, making those trips and it is something you want to do.”

If they weren't downhearted after the defeats by Cork and Limerick, it was a different story after Antrim relegated them.

“We were so far off it ourselves that day, there were no two ways about it. That was tough to take. The loss was tough to take but it was more how we performed and hurled that day was a sickener for most of us. Antrim are a very good team and have that level of difference to some other teams because they have been in Division 1 the last couple of years and competing with the top teams and stuff in the Leinster campaign last year. They are physically very strong and we knew if we were anyway off that day, we would lose it. We were off in so many sectors that day and we got things back on track again, we performed much better against them in the Joe McDonagh cup. We were very close that day and took a lot of confidence coming out of that. Belfast is a very tough place to go and to go there that day and get our performance right was the main thing. To get our confidence back into the group and hopefully kick start our year from there.”

Offaly now find themselves in the middle of a gruelling Joe McDonagh Cup campaign. They restored pride, settled the ship with an unlucky defeat against Antrim in Belfast and while they were very poor in the second half of their win over Meath, the result was all that mattered – they improved in their win over Down in the next game.

Cahill pointed out that the Meath game was their first important one to win this year and they needed to get that monkey off their back.

“That Meath game was crucial. I know we had a win in the Walsh Cup but it was our first game to win this year in a sense. It is a contrast from last year when we didn't know how to lose and were winning every game. This year was the opposite, it was what is it like to win a game again. That game against Meath wasn't our best level of hurling and performance wise we had a lot to work on but getting the win that day was crucial. To finally get two points on the board and as you say, it is a result driven campaign. We are going to Kerry at the weekend and if we play poorly and come out with the win, I will take it all day long. We are after the points. Obviously you want to hurl well but the result is the main thing. We have those two results against Meath and Down and hopefully it will kick us on for Saturday.”

They travel to Tralee to play Kerry in Tralee this Saturday, with their third overnight stay of the campaign after away games in Belfast and Ballycran in Down. They have got used to it now having engaged in a trial run for the league trip to Wexford – they have more or less the same schedule in place each time and he remarked: “It is a change and some guys work on a Friday but that is part and parcel of it. We are used to it at this stage.”

Offaly's goal is to get another run at Antrim in the Joe McDonagh final and a win over Kerry on Saturday will put them very close to it. They are not, however, looking beyond the Kerry match for one second.

“Our goal is to be in the Joe McDonagh final but we are not looking past the weekend. It is a massive game for both Offaly and Kerry. A win this weekend will take a huge step into the Joe McDonagh Cup final for either county. We do want to get another go at Antrim but if we are looking anyway forward or past the Kerry game, we are not going to get that chance and we will be waiting another year. It is full focus for the weekend against Kerry and that is the only aim at this moment in time.”

Since moving into the attack, Cahill has developed as an extraordinary scoring machine – he is deadly at frees but his scores from play have greatly enhanced his contribution. With the volume of games now in hurling, competing in lower levels and the rise in scoring tallies, it means that Cahill could end his career as Offaly's record scorer, if he goes the full distance. He is quick to point out that frees are a big element in his statistics.

“That comes with being free taker and you can find yourself higher up. I have the easier job of putting the frees over but the guys who do the hard work to win the frees deserve as much credit. The free taker's job is simple, stand over the ball at the end but it is the work rate that goes into everything. It is a complete team effort.”

Goalkeeping is now well removed from his thoughts and when it was suggested that his next game in goals could be in junior hurling for Birr at 40 years of age, he grinned: “Please God”!!

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