AS ONE of the GAA’s few remaining dual players, one would assume Eoin Cadogan embraces every available opportunity to give both his body and mind a break from the rigours of hurling and football at the highest level.
Not so, although Cadogan will tell you he does no more than any other inter-county player. His annual leave from work last year was taken up by the International Rules tour to Australia. He even spent Christmas morning at an outdoor handball alley, firing sliotars back and forth with Donal Óg Cusack and Seán Óg O hAilpín.
Cusack and O hAilpín have long been renowned for their obsessive devotion to training, but Cadogan appears to be cut from the same cloth. He uploaded a picture of the trio during their festive training session to his Twitter account on Christmas day.
“It’s a thing we’ve been doing at Christmas over the last three or four years; last year we ended up down there in the snow,” says Cadogan.
“To go down and do a small bit of training before your Christmas dinner, I suppose it makes you feel like you’re getting a bit of an edge over other fellas who might be thrown down on the couch for the day.”
Although his season ended with club and county in mid-August last year, Cadogan’s involvement with Ireland’s successful International Rules squad kept him in action until November.
“I had plenty of down-time after we got back from Australia between then and Christmas, which was nice,” he says. “I tipped away with weights by myself and stuff like that, but I was also able to put the feet up for a while and live a normal life, I suppose you could say.
“An hour in the gym isn’t too taxing on anyone and if you want to play at the top level, you have to be able to make those sacrifices and do it on the winter nights when you’re not even supposed to be doing it.
“You need to do that to stay up there with the best because every fella is in good nick physically these days. You’ll fall behind very fast unless you look after yourself. But you’d be glad to get back into the routine in January as well, training hard and establishing a bit of a routine again.”
Cadogan has been following that routine now for the past month, balancing his time between the Cork senior hurling and football panels. Maintaining a dual role is seen as unfeasible nowadays based on the demands of the modern game, but Cadogan doesn’t think twice.
The key to making it work is having two co-operative managers who recognise the importance of the player to their respective teams and are subsequently willing to meet halfway. Football boss Conor Counihan has become accustomed to sharing Cadogan with the hurlers, who are again under the stewardship of Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
Cadogan explains: “There hasn’t been a whole pile of change since Jimmy came in. The management sat down and mapped out the league in terms of which games I’m going to be playing in.
“It takes the pressure off me completely again for this year. Having two managers who’ll communicate and facilitate you is a huge help. Because of that, I know exactly how my weeks are mapped out already up until March; I know exactly what training sessions I’ll be attending and what games I’ll be involved in.
“As long as I stay injury-free, I don’t have to worry about anything. In reality I’m doing no more than the rest of the lads because if I’m training with the footballers, the hurlers are training just as hard at the same time anyway and vice versa, so it’s one or the other and it doesn’t change anything.
“I’m very fortunate that both Conor and Jimmy have been so accommodating. I was with the hurlers there for a couple of weeks and I’m back with the footballers now at the moment for the next couple of weeks.”
The reality for Cadogan is that the majority of his free time for the foreseeable future in 2012 will be occupied by GAA. But what is it that motivates him, as well as every other inter-county player, to devote such a sizeable chunk of his life to the game, while at the same time making so many sacrifices?
It’s a question you’ve probably been asked before by a confused foreigner, struggling to comprehend what makes these guys tick if it’s not financial reward.
“I think it’s just striving to get that winning feeling as much as possible,” is Cadogan’s response. “It’s over and done with now, but winning the All-Ireland in 2010 with the footballers, that was an unbelievable feeling and it’s something I find very hard to explain to people.
“As long as you’re fit and able to play with your county, you may as well put in that effort to try and get to the top, because there’s nothing better than that winning feeling.
“I’ve been injured a couple of times and have had to sit in the stand for some big games. You’re sitting there listening to comments you don’t want to hear from people about your teammates, your friends.
“It makes you realise how lucky you are to be involved and that you have to make the most of it for the time you’re there. When you’re putting in the hours and the commitment that most inter-county players do, why not go and give it your best shot for the amount of time you’re there?
“There are only 30 to 35 fellas in your county fortunate enough to be picked and it’s important you make the most of the opportunity you’ve been given.”
This weekend, Cork play their first competitive game since a dismal showing against Mayo saw them dumped out of the All-Ireland Football Championship at the quarter-final stage last July.
The defending champions relinquished their crown without a whimper, scoring just a single point in the second half. You can sense the reluctance to recall the game in Cadogan’s voice. The 1-13 to 2-6 loss still stings.
“On the day I don’t think we could have any complaints,” the Douglas man admits. “Mayo pushed us around the place physically and they had a good system in place that we couldn’t counteract.
“We only got a point in the second half and it’s something we’ve maybe looked at over the off-season. But I’d take no credit away from Mayo. They were the better team.
“I suppose that Cork football team had been on the road a long time as well. Cork had gone as far as the semi-finals every year since 2005.
“There were a lot of miles on the clock so there was probably eventually going to be a stage where things weren’t going to go our way. Maybe that was the Mayo game.”
Following that unexpectedly premature championship exit, the Cork players have had plenty of time to reset those clocks if the mileage had indeed been building up.
“After you lose, you have a lot more time on your hands to think about where it went wrong and what we can improve on. We’ve had a long winter to think about these things.”
And where, specifically, are those improvements needed?
“I suppose a lot of it is work-rate, tackling, just developing savage intensity really. A game that springs to mind would be Donegal against Kildare last year. It was end-to-end stuff and guys were out on their feet at the end of it, which showed the intensity of the game.
“It was the same with Dublin and Kerry in the final. There was nothing spared and that’s what’s required at this level. Whoever has the most hunger and is willing to put the most effort in will generally be victorious.”
Cork’s defence of the Allianz Football League begins away to Armagh on Sunday. The campaign offers the Rebels a chance to make history by becoming the first team since Kerry in 1974 to win the competition for a third consecutive year.
Lip service is generally paid to the significance of the league at this time of year, and while Cadogan admits that another title would be welcome, his main aim for this year is to be playing in Croke Park in September, not April.
The 25-year-old says: “Look, it would be a nice achievement, but the fact is that nobody talks about the league come September. Winning the league last year was no consolation whatsoever after being beaten by Mayo in the championship.
“Don’t get me wrong, it would be great to win it again or to even get to a final, but Croke Park in September is where you want to be. The league can be a good stepping stone but winning it doesn’t make up for not achieving your aims in the championship.”
So the target for the Cork footballers this year is to regain the All-Ireland, but if manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy is to be believed, the hurlers aren’t setting their sights as high just yet. Barry-Murphy is back at the helm on Leeside following an 11-year absence from inter-county management.
“Working under Jimmy has been incredible. He’s a legend in Cork and I suppose people expect success when he’s involved, maybe forgetting that he’s not actually pulling the jersey on himself,” says Cadogan.
“But Jimmy’s a good guy, he’s got a great aura about him and a great presence in the dressing room. We’re getting used to him and he’s getting used to us, but there’s definitely a freshness there.”
Cork have been without hurling silverware since winning the Munster title in 2006, so what represents a realistic aim for this year? A provincial title? Croke Park in September?
“As an athlete, no matter what sport you’re involved in, you aspire to be the very best and set your targets at the very top. You have to have those high goals for yourself and I don’t think the aim with the hurlers this year is different to any other year. It’ll be important for us to take it one game at a time but we’re definitely looking to have a long and successful year.”
As evidenced from his Christmas day ‘tweet’ from the handball alley at Rochestown College, Cadogan is one of the many GAA players to have embraced the use of Twitter, although he’s managed to avoid controversy so far – “I’m no Joey Barton,” he says.
“If you come out with anything controversial you’ll find your name in the papers for the wrong reasons. I don’t plan on tweeting anything ridiculous just yet anyway.”
Twitter has given people unprecedented access to sports stars and celebrities, but that access is often abused, with athletes in particular forced to tolerate a significant level of derision, generally from supporters of opposing teams.
Due to his combative and on-the-edge style, Cadogan is the type of player fans of the opposition love to hate. The feedback on Twitter is mainly positive, but there’ll always be one or two exceptions.
“Not everybody’s going to like you so there are a few who’ll have a pop off you, but if you were to worry about everyone who has a pop you wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. But generally people are quite friendly in what they’d say.
“If someone is having a pop I don’t pay much attention to it anyway, to be honest. People are entitled to their opinions and it’s all part and parcel of it. Let them say what they want. There are certain people whose opinions I value and there are others’ who I don’t. It doesn’t bother me too much.”