Even on quiet days, brothers are in competition with each other. There’s precious little that sticks in the craw more than being bested by a sibling, and worse still if they’re younger.
Six years separate Eoin Cadogan from his little brother, Alan, and it just so happens that their passion pits them against each other on a regular basis.
Just as he did when making his debut as a senior Cork hurler in 2009, Eoin is back wearing the number three shirt for the hurlers — although his journey has taken him the long way around. After spells with the footballers and then playing a couple of other positions with ash in hand, he’s again in a position where he seems most comfortable. All of which means his path regularly intersects with that of his brother Alan — a livewire inside forward for a number of years now — during Cork’s high-tempo training matches. With starting positions on the line, there’s no room for holding back, even with family involved.
“Yeah, there’s a bit of an edge alright,” says Eoin with a grin. “You could be marking the likes of Patrick Horgan or Alan in training, and you need to be on your game if you want to get a position on the team, and that’s the bottom line.”
“It’s one thing if Horgan gets two goals on you but it’s another if Alan does because you have to drive home together, and then have him looking across the dinner table at you! So you just have to go hard and go for it.”
The brothers come from an all-Cork background, but neither of their parents played either code. “We couldn’t have asked for more support than we have been given,” explains Eoin. “You’re going to have more bad days than good in the GAA, and I think it can be tough for them being in the stands when stuff is being said.
“You become thick-skinned when you’re playing and you probably don’t hear most of it, whereas they might. They have been very good to me and Alan.”
To the neutral observer, this Cork team looked primed for glory in 2019. They had won the last two Munster titles under Kieran Kingston and then John Meyler and were unfortunate to be pipped by Waterford and Limerick in respective All-Ireland semi-finals. Beating the high-flying Treaty during the Munster championship this season underlined the quality in the Rebel ranks, yet inconsistent displays thereafter meant they finished third in the province before Kilkenny won their quarter-final arm-wrestle.
Cadogan and his backline put up a valiant display under massive pressure at the meeting of these old rivals at Croke Park, but the dam was always liable to burst. It ended what will be remembered as a disappointing season on Leeside. Meyler’s side converted just half of their scoring chances in the first half, allowing Kilkenny to take over after the break with a devastating run of 1-8 to 0-1.
“It’s hard to argue with that,” says Cadogan of missing so many chances early on. “I think we had a lot of possession in the first 15 to 20 minutes but were down by two points, and only went in at half time up by two even though we had created so much. Kilkenny adapted their system then and got huge success from it.
“Sometimes that momentum can be hard to stop, and sometimes when you’re in that environment, you don’t even see the momentum swing until it keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
“Any time you lose, of course, it’s a missed opportunity,” he says of 2019 as a whole. “You have time to reflect and run over things, thinking about this and that. Talking about lost opportunities is rubbish though — we didn’t take it and that’s it.”
“It’s three or four months now until we can get back preparing to go again in 2020, but it is disappointing.”
Just now, that seems like a long way in the distance, and there is a club run with Douglas to be negotiated first. Not only will Eoin be back marking his brother Alan in the more local environment, but an identikit forward in young Brian Turnbull. The elder Cadogan identifies “similar knacks, attributes, they both wear 13, and the green helmet” between both the senior and Cork Under-20 star. The Rebels always seem to have fresh quality coming through, and new challenges for a defender to negotiate. Playing that crucial role at full-back might just be the toughest task in hurling in the modern game — the opposition attempts to isolate you against a top-quality forward and feed good ball in, with the defender knowing one slip means it’s lights out.
“I enjoy a challenge in whatever capacity, whether that’s in work or in sport,” the 32-year-old says. “It is a huge challenge and you’re up against some of the best players in the game: Colin Fennelly, Joe Canning, Seamus Callanan, Aaron Gillane, you could be on players like that.
“There are no fancy tricks back there, it’s cutthroat and it’s ruthless, it’s you versus him. It keeps you on edge.”
“It’s my second year back on the panel,” he says of his return from football. “I think I found my feet a lot quicker this year because I already had a full year behind me. You get fierce confidence from marking the likes of Patrick or Alan, because they’re two of the hardest players to mark in the country.”
“There are systems and structures in hurling but in the full-back line, you’re often isolated, and it’s just you and your man. You’d sleep easier going into big games after coming through that.”
There’s life outside GAA too, whether that’s in his passion for jiu-jitsu, or working self-employed at the wellness centre in Apple’s International headquarters in Cork, which caters for approximately 6000 people.
“It’s a fun environment to work in, in the sense that you have a huge range of cultures,” says Cadogan. “I start and finish early to try to accommodate my training schedule. Away from GAA, I enjoy going back training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I took it up in 2011 but just with the nature of training and intensity in GAA, it’s hard to always get around to. But it’s something I will fall back on when I do decide to call it quits.”
“I find that it’s a good switch-off because there’s a competitive nature in it and a huge amount of thinking goes into the skill level side of it. I love it really, I enjoy it, and it’s completely different to GAA as well.”
Jiu-Jitsu is one of a number of different disciplines that falls into the bracket of mixed martial arts, which has grown hugely in popularity on these shores due to the rise in prominence of Conor McGregor. Cadogan explains that there is a wide range of fields to dive into, but that he has no real plans on competing at a serious level — insisting he wouldn’t have the skill level required.
“I got enough belting playing hurling and football over the years, I have enough of it!” he says with a laugh. “I enjoy the coaching aspect of it, even from the strength and conditioning side of it.
“Even with the GAA, I was involved with the Cork Under-17 hurlers this year under John Considine from November up until the end of April, and I love working with players and trying to get the best out of them.”
“I really believe from that age, or any age, that players put limitations on themselves on how they view themselves — they feel that they might not be good enough. I think sometimes from a strength and conditioning point of view, it’s about running or lifting weights, and that’s obviously a component of it, but I see the biggest component as understanding your player or individual.”
“You don’t need any fancy apps, you can simply go up to a player and say: ‘How are you feeling today? How are things going in school? Is everything alright? You’re hurling great. Is there anything we can help with?”
“Ultimately, that’s what you’re there for, you’re there to facilitate players. This year is my 12th season at senior inter-county level and I can see how things have changed, and I can see how younger players are coming in with different… not distractions, but different things that are available to them in terms of travel and so on.”
“You’re constantly trying to get the best out of these lads because, unless you’re really enjoy something and feel there is someone there to support you, you ultimately won’t get the best out of yourself.”