Adrian Cahill (front left) and Birr senior hurlers before defeating Kilmallock in 1995. Picture: Birr GAA Twitter.
THE Offaly GAA world was plunged into mourning this evening with news of the sudden and untimely death of one of the county's most gifted hurling talents, Adrian Cahill. In his late 40s, he died in Lanzarotte in Spain's Canary Islands where he lived and worked in recent years.
While he didn't achieve the national stardom that many of his young colleagues from the late 1980s and early 1990s enjoyed, he was as talented a hurler as Offaly has produced – at a young age, his talent matched legendary contemporaries such as Brian Whelahan and Johnny Dooley and while they went on to become nationally famous, Cahill leaves a chest of treasured memories.
A delightfully skillful player, he was wing back on the Offaly team that won the All-Ireland Minor Hurling Championship in 1987 while he was midfield when they regained the Irish Press Cup two years later in 1989.
That was a seismic time for Offaly hurling. Inspired by the deeds of the first great Offaly hurling teams, the 1981 and 1985 All-Ireland senior hurling champions, an outstanding new generation of Offaly hurler began to quickly emerge. Tutored by excellent hurling people such as Br Denis, Adrian Cahill was a product of the great nursery in St Brendan's Community School, Birr (an amalgmatation of Presentation College, Birr where the wheels first began to gather momentum in the 1970s, Birr Vocational School and St John's Mercy Convent), who along with schools in Banagher and other areas helped play such an important part in the development of Offaly hurling in those never to be forgotten years.
He was too young to be on the panel when St Brendan's won the All-Ireland senior hurling colleges title in 1986 – that squad included his brother Gary and future heroes such as Declan Pilkington, Joe Erritty, Daithi Regan, Billy Dooley, Johnny Pilkington, and a young Brian Whelahan along with his brother Gary, who was also an excellent hurler.
St Brendan's were beaten in the 1987 and 1989 Leinster finals, losing out to St Kieran's of Kilkenny in both, with the '89 meeting going to a replay with Adrian Cahill an important part of both squads.
His outstanding talent shone through from an early age. He won All-Ireland Community Games medals with Birr in 1983 and 1984, featuring on many successful underage sides alongside players such as Brian Whelahan and Johnny Pilkington. He won a national Feile (U-14) Division 2 medal in 1985, an Offaly U-16 hurling medal in 1985 and three Offaly minor hurling medals in a row in 1987, 1988 and 1989. He won Offaly U-21 hurling medals with the parish team, St Brendan's in 1988, 1990 and 1991.
His talent was so special, so prodigious that his elevation to county squads was a mere formality. He was an superb performer on those All-Ireland minor winning sides in 1987 and 1989 and also won Leinster U-21 medals in 1989, 1991 and 1992 - Offaly's failure to build on their minor glory with ultimate U-21 success remains one of the great regrets for many of those players. Offaly were beaten by Tipperary, Galway and Waterford in the All-Ireland finals in '89, '91' and '92 and should have won at least one title – Cahill, still a minor, was midfield in the 1989 All-Ireland final thriller against Tipperary, wing forward in the '91 defeat by Galway and he came on a sub in the heartbreaking 1992 replay defeat by Waterford, 0-12 to 2-3.
His progress to the Offaly senior hurling team was a mere formality. He was still a minor when he made his senior debut for Offaly in the league against Carlow in October 1989 and he won a Leinster senior hurling medal in 1990, coming on as a sub in the run away Leinster semi-final win over Kilkenny – played on the same day that Ireland had a dull 0-0 draw with Egypt in the World Cup as Italia '90 mania swept the country with many supporters staying at home to watch that, the great team of the 1990s had a glorious swansong as they destroyed Kilkenny by 4-15 to 1-8.
He didn't feature as Dublin were beaten in the Leinster final but Cahill started at wing back as Galway proved a bridge too far in the All-Ireland semi-final and Offaly entered a transitional period for a few years. It wasn't a simple time with plenty of frustration in the air as the 1980s team broke up and difficult decisions were taken – some players walked away themselves, a couple perhaps before their time, others were told their day was up much to the disappoinment of some and Offaly went through managers like confetti at a wedding for a few years.
The outstanding young crop of minors were thrown into the mix, some of them before their time. For example, that 1990 team that beat Kilkenny included household names in Jim Troy, Aidan Fogarty, Eugene Coughlan, Joachim Kelly, Pat Cleary and Danny Owens along with products of the All-Ireland minor winning sides, Brian Whelahan, Roy Mannion, Johnny Pilkington, Brendan Kelly, Daithi Regan, Michael Duignan, Declan Pilkington and Cahill.
It was too early for some of those minors and they entered adult hurling with a huge weight of expectation around their shoulders and all the accompanying pressure – Offaly were expected to do well but 1991, 1992 and 1993 were barren years on the championship front though they did win a National Hurling League in 1991. Cahill didn't play in the league final win over Wexford but had played in most of the earlier games, including the semi-final success over Tipperary in Limerick.
Sadly Adrian Cahill didn't fulfill his immense underage potential. He played just eighteen senior league and championship games for Offaly and just three of these were in the championship – considering how breathtaking his talent could be, that was a mere pittance. He played in those two in 1990 and he was a sub in the 1991 Leinster championship defeat by Dublin, which sounded the final death knell of the 1980s team and heralded the full changing of the guard – by now future All-Ireland senior hurling medal winners, Shane McGuckin, Johnny Dooley and Billy Dooley were on the team in addition to some of the above named who played in 1990.
Cahill played in the shock league defeat by Down in 1991, he didn't feature at all in 1992 because of a broken leg and his last game was in a league defeat by Kilkenny in October 1993 when he came on as a sub. By now the final piece in the Offaly hurling jigsaw had been put in place with the appointment of Limerick folk hero, Eamon Cregan as manager. Cregan led Offaly to a famous All-Ireland final win over his native county in 1994 while they won the Liam McCarthy Cup for the fourth and final time in 1998.
Cahill should have been in his prime in those years but unfortunately he was a mere spectator as Offaly hurling enjoyed its second golden era with All-Ireland medals, All-Stars and hurler of the year awards flocking to the county from 1994 to 2000.
As a county, Offaly was famous for very few real talents slipping through the net and not fulfilling their potential. It is one of the reasons why they enjoyed such great success in the 1960s, '70s and 80s in football and the 1980s and 1990s in hurling. Adrian Cahill, however, was one who would have graced any stage but didn't win the medals, awards and glory that his talent merited.
St Rynagh's man Roy Mannion was another hurler good enough to have played in 1994 and probably later but he also finished his career without an All-Ireland senior medal. Eamon Cregan certainly wanted both men, he knew their talent and he had them on his initial squad but the Limerick man was a tough disciplinarian, he didn't tolerate players who didn't meet his standards in all aspects of his plans and Cahill and Mannion were two who were left by the wayside.
Adrian Cahill was a real artist of a hurler, a brilliant stickman, very accurate from play and frees, supremely confident and able to leave markers for dead with a flick of his wrist or turn of his feet. He was superbly versatile, equally at home in defence – he played a lot of his early hurling on the half back line -, midfield or in the attack, where he ended up in his latter club career.
Why did Adrian Cahill not make it at the highest level? Hard to say definitively and it is really for others to judge but it is no secret that as the years wore on, his lifestyle was not conducive to top level senior inter-county hurling and that was certainly one factor. Injury also had a huge negative impact on his career and he never fully recovered his form or fitness after breaking his leg after Birr won their first Leinster club hurling title in 1991. That was a deeply unfortunate injury, sustained in a fun game of soccer in St Brendan's Park at a training session and the road back was a tough and arduous one for him. He did play some excellent hurling after that, he had brilliant days at the office but he was never quite the same hurler and his decline happened way too early. He may have also have been thrown in at the deep end too soon and he got a huge volume of hurling from a young age which may have dampened his desire but while we can talk about the ones that got away, he also has a medal haul that very few can match and that needs to be remembered primarily.
In 1991, Birr were in the midst of a painful and long famine as they had not won the Offaly Senior Hurling Championship since 1971. It all came right that year as they edged out Seir Kieran by a point in a thrilling final in St Brendan's Park with Adrian Cahill playing at number 12 and scoring four crucial points – goalkeeper, the veteran Paddy Kirwan scored a spectacular late winning point from a free.
He won a Leinster club medal that November as a rampant Birr destroyed Ballyhale Shamrocks in the final but that broken leg ruled him out for the All-Ireland series as they lost the final to Galway's Klltormer in the All-Ireland final in March 1992.
The 1990s was a great era for Offaly club hurling with quite fantastic rivalry between excellent Birr, St Rynagh's and Seir Kieran teams. Birr won the Offaly and Leinster titles again in 1994 – Cahill scored four points in the Offaly final win over Seir Kieran, a crucial intervention on a day when the scoreline read 0-8 to 0-6. He missed the Leinster final win over Wexford's Oulart the Ballagh but was in sensational form as they won their first All-Ireland club title in March 1995 – he got two points in the drawn All-Ireland final against Dunloy of Antrim and bagged six in their run away replay win.
After this Cahill began to slowly drift away from the scene and he didn't feature in the Offaly, Leinster and All-Ireland finals as Birr again reached the pinnacle in 1997/1998. That 1994/1995 season was really the epitaph of his hurling career and as an outstanding younger generation of the Hanniffy's, Gary, Rory and Darren, Simon and Barry Whelahan, Niall Claffey and others joined the greats from the Offaly 1994/1998 teams, Birr embarked on an unprecedented run of mind boggling success. He did return for a finale in 2000, coming on as a sub in the February All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Athenry after the Offaly and Leinster titles had again been annexed in 1999 – he had played intermediate earlier in 1999 and didn't feature in the Offaly or Leinster final wins that October and November. He was on the panel for the All-Ireland semi-final and his introduction in the closing quarter represented the last throw of the dice for Birr as they fought hard against the great Galway side in a 2-9 to 1-10 defeat.
While hurling very much took primacy in Birr, many of their great hurlers were also decent footballers and Adrian Cahill enjoyed the big ball game, coming on as a sub in their 1992 Junior Football Championship final win, beating Tullamore in a replayed final – he had won an All-Ireland Community Games bronze football medal with Birr in 1982.
He was a larger than life personality. Known fondly as “Mongo”, he enjoyed life and lived it to the full. He was a hugely sociable character and he was great company. He had a mighty wit and endeared himself to most people he met – he enjoyed a joke and banter, revelled in talking about the golden days of his early career and had the ability to dominate whatever company he was in. He could also be very serious when he put his mind to it. He was a passionate hurling man, devoted to his beloved Birr and a great Offaly supporter. He was hugely popular and the extent of this speaks volumes about his character.
He served his club very well in the middle of the 2010s, acting on committee, doing trojan work in St Brendan's Park and working as a mentor with underage teams. The timing of his death was ironic as his nephew Eoghan Cahill had a sensational game for Offaly in their Christy Ring Cup win over Derry today, scoring seventeen points, four from play, in a remarkable display of sharp shooting. Another nephew, Lochlann Quinn was outstanding for Offaly minors in their excellent win over Laois a few weeks ago, also shooting the lights out as he fired over 14 points.
He worked in insulation in Birr for years and in recent years, he lived and worked in Lanzarotte in the Canary Islands, where his sudden death occurred.
Birr GAA Club posted the following tribute to Adrian Cahill this evening:
“It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that everyone involved with Birr GAA Club learned of the sudden passing of our great gael Adrian Cahill.
“Where do you start when trying to do justice to a larger than life character. Adrian had the skill most others could only dream of on the pitch and a heart of gold off with it a sharp with that always brought smiles to people's faces.
“His displays in the red and green of Birr and the green, white and gold of Offaly will never be forgotten and no doubt he would have been beaming with pride at the performance of his nephew Eoghan for Offaly today.
“Birr GAA would like to offer our deepest sympathy to the Cahill family, Bulfin Park and we will be with you in this dark time.
“We will always remember you mush. RIP Mongo.”
* See Midland and Tullamore Tribune on Wednesday for special tributes to the late Adrian Cahill.