*Diarmuid, Joe and Gearoid Cahill. Photograph: Natasha Barton.
IN COROFIN they call Páirc Finne the field of dreams but lining out and representing their beloved parish in a Munster final is beyond the wildest fantasies of the Cahill family.
Members of the Cahill family all assume crucial roles in the club’s march to the provincial decider, on the back of the club winning their third ever county intermediate title. Joe is in his first year as intermediate manager, Gearoid is a vital link man at midfield while Diarmuid is the liveliest member of their attack, Geraldine has responsibility for first aid with Maria among the loyal supporters in the club.
Reflecting on the campaign to date, Gearoid detailed, “It’s been great”. The focus from the beginning of the year was becoming more consistent, he recalled. “One of our goals for the last couple of years has been to get that bit of consistency in performance, we were up and down, we’d play well in one game and drop it for the next game, I think this year in championship we’ve found great consistency. The championship is hard won but the last couple of weeks the enjoyment we’ve got from going to training and the two games we’ve played has brought a great buzz, we’ve been delighted really with how they’ve been going but it’s enjoyable to get to training the last couple of weeks”.
Having steered the club to U13A glory and an All-Ireland Féile title, then overseeing their success as an amalgamation with Ruan at U16A, Minor A and U21A, Joe made the natural progression to the club’s first team. Picturing preparing for a Munster final was not in his mind when he agreed to become manager, he admitted. “I worked with a group who were now from the age of nineteen up to twenty two and I felt maybe they were tired of listening to me but I felt the older group from twenty seven up were demanding I take over the job so I said I have a group that want me and a group that are maybe tired of listening to me so that is when I got Matt Shannon to come in and give some coaching, he really got a great bounce off the younger group and I got a great bounce off the older guys who I had worked with before, we complemented each other very well. There’s thirteen of us involved, people were saying at the time ‘is this feasible’ but they have really connected with the players those thirteen people, every time they come into training the players connect with them, they know their job and they do their job, it is brilliant to have all those people involved because when you’re coaching or managing you have to get the right people on the bus and I certainly think we have the right people on the bus”.
For Diarmuid a four month injury lay off in the heigh of the summer with ligament and cartilage damage to his left ankle from a football match in Galway, has made him appreciate being back on the field. “When you come back you have that bit more of a hunger and you nearly take it for granted what you have when you’re playing whether it is playing matches or going to training with the lads, I was still going but it wasn’t the same when you’re only standing on the sideline. When I did come back I’ve been enjoying it that bit more, I’m still slowly coming back but coming back into this group, they enjoy the craic and that side of it so it has been very enjoyable”. He added, “I didn’t think I’d be back at this stage, I was thinking that I wouldn’t play again in 2023 but I did a lot of work, I went to a woman in Meath twice and she did a lot of work for me to get back, it has slowly come back but it is great to be back and winning again”.
Injury has also altered Gearoid’s perspective, most notably the cruciate ligament injury he sustained in 2019. “When I came back I took sport from a different perspective, up until then I was very much next game and I was taking it so serious and took the losses very badly but after that I had a different perspective and I was just enjoying it, I still want to improve every year but the confidence is back and you enjoy every day getting to go out with them lads and train at a high level with my friends. I don’t get as low after the losses anymore, when you’re out for nine months like that you do get a different perspective on it and a more positive perspective on sport”.
Building a stronger panel during their league success and competing in the top tier at underage were heralded by Joe as major factors in Corofin securing promotion to senior for the first time since their relegation in 2010. “The experience of playing A hurling with Ruan as an amalgamation has given them a sense of no fear, we’ve been there before, in previous years we might have been saying why would we be going up playing senior when we’ve never played A. As I said before, we needed to get a licence to play in a competition, whether we won or not was immaterial, all these cups and medals are grand, they are like receipts, you can hang onto them, throw them away or treasure them. The value of playing A competitions at underage and being able to compete has been key”.
Although they had four points to spare over Sixmilebridge in the county final, it was still a wake-up call, in Joe’s eyes. “I think Sixmilebridge really played well on the day, they didn’t allow us to play well and that was the bottom line, the Bridge were probably better on the day but missed a few key chances, we got over the line but we really bounced off from that. If we won the county final by twenty points we wouldn’t have been as good in Munster, it was a wake-up call for us that we needed to keep improving because the Bridge really put it up to us, it wasn’t that we played bad but we have to credit the way they played”.
That win ensured that all three men in the Cahill household now had intermediate championships to their name. Joe was part of the 1991 winning side, lining out at wing forward.
Generally it is Joe that gets to give the feedback to his two sons but they’ve since found some video evidence of his exploits on the field. “Joe O’Connell who runs the Corofin Tidy Towns had a few videos up so other than that we were going off word of mouth so we didn’t know how good or bad he was,” Gearoid explained.
This footage left Diarmuid with some observations, “I was saying I wouldn’t get away with the length of the hurley that he was striking off and I don’t think many would. We’d be getting in trouble if we were standing out looking for the breaking ball, we wouldn’t get away with it these days”. He is certainly glad he didn’t have to encounter the corner backs of the 1990s, “Seeing back a couple of those videos and watching the Corofin teams of the old days, Pat Curtis was corner back and there was no nonsense with him anyway, I don’t know would we survive with that kind of hurling”.
Offering some explanations on his own style of play, Joe pleaded, “I always say I was never coached, people often said to me I was never taken off because I kept trying, I was useless but they never took me off because I kept trying. In my latter years, the team improved after I retired, that is the way I put it”.
Since retirement, coaching has become his main passion. “I’ve a mad passion for coaching and I often go to coaching things, I went to one in Carlow IT but I only spent fifteen minutes at it, Mick Dempsey was doing it and I realised that what they were talking about didn’t apply to the team I was coaching. You have to go and know your players before you go into coaching. We were never coached, Paudie Butler is a great coaching advocate, he would say ‘I’d love to go back to a field where there’s four jackets left down as goals’, I’ve said before that I’d hate to go back to that because a dominant player ran the whole show and you ended up getting two players running the whole show. I’d love to see a player like Adam Screeney making it, that type of player, I looked back on the 2020 All-Ireland final and Limerick had eleven lads over 6’2, maybe that is the way it is going to go but I’d love to see the guys like Adam Screeney or players like Ben O’Connor or Jerry O’Connor coming back to hurling”.
Along with his roles with Corofin, Joe has also been involved with county development squads. He puts his hand up to admit when his coaching journey began, his standards were a far cry from where they should be. “I think coaching is very complex regardless of where it is taught. You need to coach the individual first and then create the team environment. I was put in as a stop-gap when I was five, they came to me to know would I coach the team because they had nobody to do it. I remember starting off and I used to tell Gearoid to tell them we’re training on Friday night, there was no contact with parents, they would turn up and I’d throw a ball in at ten past seven, as Paudie Butler said ‘you’d vomit up all the mistakes you made in your life, I used to do this and I used to do that’. I was doing it for three or four weeks and then I said to Gearoid ‘tell them we’re training on Friday night’ and he said, ‘I don’t think they’ll go because there is a circus on’, Duffy’s Circus was going to be on and that was my eureka moment in coaching, I changed all of a sudden and got organised, it was after a month or six weeks of not carrying out the duty of the coach but I started from that and I had to learn.
“I always believe this, with social media now, you could train a seven year old boy or girl and do a session with them but they can go home and Google it to find out if you’re bluffing or not, that is absolutely brilliant. The other side of social media, I remember Sambo McNaughton saying something before and I mentioned it to him when I met him at the Clare and Kilkenny game, he said ‘you’ve 500 friends on Facebook now but when you die only five of them will show up to the funeral’, a lot of social media is irrelevant. I love the coaching side of it, Cian O’Neill was the first guy to tell us not to use a whistle in training, use numbers because in a match situation a whistle means either stop or start so take away that notion by using numbers, that is what I started to do. You can’t spoof anymore, I used to turn up at five to seven to start training at seven then I’m expecting them to be at the field at twenty to when they came to minor, it was a massive change for them and me. The one thing that has happened this year is the professionalism of the environment, every player knows when they come to training what our plan because the session plan is visible to them before training, they are only simple things but it can create an environment where there is learning going on every day even this morning there was learnings going on even though we were a week out from a Munster final”.
Duffy’s Circus has not returned to Corofin since, Gearoid confirmed. “We wish it was sometimes, when you’ve had a bad game you wouldn’t mind a trip to the circus rather than to be here listening to it”.
One constant with Joe as part of his duties on matchday is his folder. The two Cahill sons admitted they’ve never been afforded the chance to have a peak of what is inside it. “We don’t know what’s inside it, I’d say all that is written down on it is turnovers because that is what he always seems to be talking about, himself and Matthew at the meetings and the boys put a big emphasis on the turnovers so I presume it is something that’s inside it,” Diarmuid suggested.
Stress surrounding the folder clouded their quarter-final win over Lorrha/Dorrha, Joe revealed. “We went down to Nenagh to play Lorrha/Dorrha, we met at 11am in the field in Corofin, there was a DVD done Corofin the field of dreams because there was a brilliant DVD done about five years ago but I had it with the folder, I left down the folder and got on the bus, arrived down in Nenagh with no folder. Somebody said to me after the game, we were just coming off the field and someone said ‘you must be very happy’, I said I’d only be happy if I got back to the field and the folder was where it was and thankfully it was”.
Diarmuid’s theory on the contents of the folder prompts Gearoid to highlight the renewed focus placed on turnovers. “The two of us the last couple of years would have been under pressure to get scores to our name but this year what the boys have brought in and we’re lucky to see it at home with the amount of effort and time that goes into watching and analysing teams and ourselves, you’re nearly more worried now if you don’t get your name on the turnover section than if you are on the scoreboard which is a great sign because it has been a big thing for us this year and it has improved our game with the fact that we’re going out looking to put in tackles rather than get your name on the scoreboard”.
Whether the folder remains under lock and key in the Cahill household is likely. “The thing about the folder is, there’s a stop watch on it which I love, it’s built into the top of it and that is the real thing for me,” Joe admitted. On some of the notes he places in the folder while a game is ongoing, he said, “I write three key things in the first half that I feel we need to improve on. Our stats team come over to us at half time and it is pretty accurate, I’d write down different things but you sit back and review what you wrote down which is important at the end of the game to set the tone for the next training session. We trained on Sunday morning and there was a massive vibe there, there is a massive thirst for information in our group, you won’t fool these guys, you have to come prepared and that is a great thing for us but we’re enjoying that, we know we need to be spot on with these guys because they demand high standards, it is player led which is a great sign”.
Matt Shannon’s introduction to the management has ensured players used to Joe have also enjoyed a fresh voice, Diarmuid felt. We’ve had him (Joe) since we were U6 so it was great to get fresh information, he had a new approach, he had new ideas coming to the table which we hadn’t experienced before, he is a very good coach, the sessions and drills are always very good and very game-based, they are practical to matches. The conditioning games are very enjoyable in training, they are all the same in that they take no nonsense, they give it straight up and if you play poor they will let you know which is good for us because we need to get that piece of information, they will never let you get too high and Matthew will let you know where you can improve your game which is very beneficial to all of us, he treats us all the same”.
Both Gearoid and Diarmuid are also key figures within the football team. Gearoid references their run to the 2021 Munster intermediate club final. “We’re more experienced now this time round, lads are two years older and have a lot more games played. That run for us in the football was unbelievable because for a lot of us it was our first time going outside the county, the same as the hurling this year there was a lot of pressure from within to win the football championship. We’ve definitely learned from that experience this year, even the last day in Corofin, whatever about medals we’ve won or anything, you can never replicate playing Munster championship games in your own club ground with your people there, that was really special and it is something that all of us will remember for a long time to come”.
On the football front this year, the mental strength gained from avoiding relegation and fending off Clondegad in a do or die game to consolidate their status has given the hurling a bounce. “Staying up in the football was a huge thing for us because we didn’t want to go down so soon after coming up and our management team were fantastic, both managements were fantastic, we’re still going into the first week of December and nobody has been flogged so lads are still enjoying training, for us to stay up for them was especially pleasing but that resilience we’ve gained from playing a very tough and experienced Clondegad team in the relegation final and to get over the line in that, I don’t know was it in our heads for the rest of the year because we’ve come through some fairly tight games in the hurling since. For the two of us and the majority of our panel, we’re so used to playing the two that you want to be doing well in both of them, these days aren’t going to last forever and you have to make the most of them in both codes while we have the players that we have available to us, it was a positive thing that we stayed up and it has definitely benefitted us on the hurling side”.
When he was joint captain of the Corofin/Ruan side to win the U21A title against Newmarket-on-Fergus in 2021, Gearoid’s speech saw him reference the contribution of the late Willie Corbett to the locality. This sense of community has always been important to him. “I’d be emotional about it, we do have a very small close-knit community, I think it is due to our upbringing, we were always encouraged to go and help out with the community. Last week to see what it meant to the older people and to the children in Corofin, the two of us have the teaching experience from the both schools in Corofin and Kilnaboy, whatever about the medals you win but what it means to the older people and the generation coming after us and the bond that you get, last week was one of the only times you’d get the majority of the parish in the one place all looking to achieve a common goal. There’s been unbelievable people like Willie Corbett and Toddy O’Loughlin, Toddy and Timmy McMahon came into us in primary school and coached us when we had no one, it had an impact on the two of us and the lads our age. Toddy passed away a few years ago. They were brilliant men. We got to play in Páirc Finne the last day, Willie Corbett had a huge impact on what is there at the moment and I don’t think we’d have been able to host a Munster club fixture if it wasn’t for people like Willie and to get players on the field Toddy had a huge impact. You’d often hear county players say it is the place you start off and finish up with, the last couple of weeks have given me a real sense of what it means to the people you are going out representing, the hard work that we’ve put in on the field is because you’re trying to represent the people of Corofin because they are hard-working and they are paying to go into those games”.
Toddy’s input to the schools was also noted by Joe, “Toddy O’Loughlin used to be in the schools coaching and it used to be brilliant because we had got our coaching right and everything was very structured and marked out, they used to go to schools training, hop the wall with Toddy and Timmy and it was back to the four poles on the ground which I thought was brilliant because they were complimenting each other, they loved that, kids only want to play a game”.
Competing in the Munster club where their opponents so far have included Tipperary’s Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and David Reidy of Limerick is the type of test they aspire to, Diarmuid explained. “You want to be playing against the best and test out against the best. We came up against Bonner Maher the first day, it is a credit to the backs, they’ve been unbelievable this year, they went out, Killian O’Connor had the task of marking the Bonner and he was relishing it when he found out, the same with Fionn the last day, he only came home from Australia off the plane and had to go into to face a man with five All-Irelands but again he relished it and I think he kept him to a point from play. We’ll be up against it now with Castlelyons, they have two or three backs that would have been on the Cork seniors, you want to test yourself against the best and you will find out where you are fairly lively against these boys. It has been enjoyable, I’ve played Harty Cup where you’d come up against these type of players and stuff like that, you want to be pitting yourself against these guys as much as you can”.
A third year student in Mary Immaculate College, Diarmuid points to the benefits of Fitzgibbon Cup hurling and the Dr Harty Cup with St Flannan’s College in 2020 as fuelling that appetite. “There’s a great staff there, even in the last couple of weeks Pat McNamara who we’d know from Scariff Bay Radio is teaching there with me, the interest they are taking in it and the congratulations coming in after the games, you’d be having the craic with the kids on the Monday morning after a game, I gave them no homework after the county final so please God I might give them no homework again on Monday morning. They are mad into the sport, I was involved with the football team and we were unlucky to lose the Division 1 football final last week, we’ll be starting up the hurling this week, teaching is our job and that perspective I have from doing the cruciate shows there’s more things outside of life than sport so it is a release to go out training with the lads for an hour or an hour and a half on a Tuesday or Thursday, I’m enjoying the teaching so far”.
Tasting success with the club has been the reality for the Cahill family but renewing their involvement with county squads is still the dream. “The two of us since we were three and four years of age out the back pucking every day and we’ve gone back to doing that this year, you might get distracted and go into the pitch but with any spare time we have now with the two of us at home for the first time in a while we’ve gone back out pucking every day. We’ve grown up through the development squads and I often say our pathway between club, up through development squads and in Flannan’s you want to be playing at the highest level and testing yourself against the best but with that you have to be able to prove yourself and to play senior hurling next year is another step for us, it will be a dream always to represent your county, I’ve been lucky enough to get to a certain level but we’d like to go higher if we could,” Gearoid said.
While it may be the Cahills that feel blessed to be able to call Corofin home, it really is the community of Corofin that are fortunate to have the Cahills as driving forces.