WHEN CORK’S STARTING fifteen was unveiled on Friday night for yesterday’s clash with Limerick, the extent of the surgery performed by John Meyler was revealed.

In an attempt to improve on a display that saw them leak 2-28, including a staggering 2-24 from play, against Tipperary, the Cork boss brought in four new faces to indicate a fresh approach was being taken.

Six minutes after throw-in Meyler’s hand was forced and another alteration was required. Conor Lehane limped off with an ankle problem and Alan Cadogan was pushed into the action. Suddenly Cork were operating with a third of their starting side changed from the previous Sunday.

For Cadogan it was a significant moment. He was sampling game time on 19 May 2019, over 21 months since his previous championship appearance on 13 August 2017 when Cork lost out to Waterford in Croke Park. 

An addition to the 26-man squad for yesterday’s game, Cadogan hardly expected to get such an extensive run out. Lehane had just swivelled to fire over Cork’s second point of the day and when his withdrawal materialised, it was reasonable to feel that Cork would spring Shane Kingston, the contributor of 0-3 against Tipperary and seemingly unlucky to drop out of the starting side.

Instead Meyler entrusted Cadogan with the opportunity, irrespective of his long-term absence from the heat of championship exchanges.

And the 26-year-old seized his chance in style.

By the final whistle Cork were seven-point victors and had resurrected their 2019 hopes. Cadogan had struck 0-3 from play, provided the assist for another brace of points, was fouled for a converted free and was central to another passage of play that yielded a Seamus Harnedy score before the break. 

That’s a direct role in seven of the points that Cork notched. Last Sunday Cork had looked hamstrung by the level of reliance they placed on Patrick Horgan for attacking leadership. The difference in the showing of their forwards was striking yesterday.

The availability of Cadogan and the shift he put in was crucial in order to achieve that.

Alan Cadogan in action for Cork against Waterford in the 2017 All-Ireland hurling semi-final.

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

It’s five years since a precocious young Douglas forward exploded onto the scene for Cork. He weighed in with 0-4 from play in that 2014 Munster opener against Waterford. Cork drew that day but won the replay and at the end of his debut season, Cadogan had a Munster medal and was an All-Star nominee.

What happened after that? Keeping the direction of that form going in an upward curve wasn’t easy in 2015 and 2016 as Cork hurling experienced a downturn. Cadogan ransacked the Dublin defence for 1-5 in a July qualifier in 2016 but those seasons ended in miserable fashion for the county in Thurles at the hands of Galway and Wexford.

It switched back in Cadogan’s favour two years ago as he thrived in a Cork team who began to soar again in Munster. He shot 0-3 against Tipperary, notched a single point against Waterford and was crowned man-of-the-match when taking the Clare defence for 1-4 on Munster final day. 

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Their All-Ireland hopes were extinguished by a goal rush from Waterford, a game where it was notable that Noel Connors was detailed to police Cadogan, evidence of the threat that it was felt he posed. He still managed to shoot a brace of points yet those avenues in attack never opened up.

And until yesterday’s showing, that game was his most recent memories of championship combat. After the 2018 league, Cadogan missed the Munster opener against Clare with a knee injury. It looked at first a short-term ailment but the gravity of the problem soon emerged and he underwent surgery in May.

A long rehabilitation period ensued and he was absent in Cork colours until February. He got on with ten minutes to go on a Saturday night league tie against Clare, then started against Tipperary in March before hobbling off with injury before half-time in Páirc Uí Rinn.

Alan Cadogan with Christopher Joyce celebrating after Cork’s league tie against Clare.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The concern was obvious after that game but the prognosis transpired to be more promising regarding his prospects of playing in 2019.

If there still seemed a sense of risk in bringing him on at such an early juncture yesterday, Cadogan quickly shredded any notions that he would be off the pace. Two minutes after his introduction he had claimed an angled delivery from Mark Coleman and swung over a Cork point.

That set the tone. A feature of Cork’s Munster winning campaign in 2017, particularly in the final against Clare, was the manner in which Cadogan and Horgan dovetailed in a two-man full-forward line. Yesterday Horgan roamed out on occasion but there was still glimpses of that strategy. 

Cork sought to send diagonal clearances from the middle third. Both Cadogan and Horgan frequently raced in the same direction, successfully reading the breaks or winning primary possession to feed the other. In the 24th minute Cadogan won a break, slipped a short handpass to Horgan who pointed. Nine minutes later the same move took place but under pressure Horgan then found Harnedy who rifled over a score.

Cadogan was fouled for a free that Horgan snapped over in the opening period and then stamped his mark on the game after the break. In the wake of Limerick spurning two clearcut point opportunities, Cork attacked the heart of the champions.

Anthony Nash bombed out two puckouts in quick succession that cleared Limerick’s powerful half-back line. On each occasion Cadogan slipped onto possession ahead of Sean Finn, firstly releasing Luke Meade for a point and secondly clipping over a neat score himself. Then the pick of his points arrived in the 54th minute, a lobbed shot over his shoulder from the right wing.

Cadogan’s enthusiastic and relentless movement unsettled the Limerick rearguard as he raced from wing to wing. He had one first-half attempt for a point blocked out for a sideline by Finn and saw another tail wide in the second half.

But overall Cadogan’s efficient usage of possession tended to yield a score for Cork. In his 17th senior hurling championship outing for the county and in a venue he last graced in a championship setting back in 2013 in an All-Ireland U21 football final, Cadogan illustrated the qualities he can offer Cork upon his return.

A forgotten man as Cork’s 2018 journey unfolded, he made his championship mark for Cork as their 2019 season kicked into gear.

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