NO free pints for guessing what the topic of conversation on Hanover Street is this week — that’s not the one by the banks of the River Leine, but instead the banks of River Lee.

All because that’s where Cahalane’s Pub is — the new venture of Cork full-back Damien Cahalane, that’s backed by his father Niall and Paul Montgomery of Reardon’s Bar fame.

Niall the famous footballer with Munster, All-Ireland medals and All Stars will no doubt be dissecting Cork’s Munster football final failure to Kerry, while if Mullagh man Paul drops by he’ll play the Clare card and talk the Munster hurling final.

Meanwhile, Damien Cahalane’s plan is just to soak it all up. “I don’t mind all the talk about the games at all,” he says. “In fact it’s a good thing and I welcome it.

“Cork people are always naturally confident. For years it would have been tough for them when things weren’t going so well. It has been nice this year and last year that we’ve got performances and results, so they want to talk about it. That comes with being a county player,” he adds.

For Cahalane the last year has been a revelation — back in 2016 he was brunt of much on-line criticism when Cork had a very disappointing season, crashing to Tipperary in Munster and then to Wexford in a second round All-Ireland Qualifier, but now he’s one of the bedrocks of the Rebels’ resistance at the back.

A footballer, then a footballer/hurler, but now just a hurler. “I was footballing in 2013 and played against Clare first in 2014,” he says by way of introduction to his topsy-turvy inter-county career. 

“I made my (hurling) debut two years previously against Wexford in the Qualifier and then went footballing for a year and then back hurling.

“It was nice for the lads that day in 2014 — the lads who had been involved the previous year, even for myself as I’d be good buddies with all the lads who were playing in 2013. It was nice to get a result against them after being beaten in the final.”

“Cork people are always naturally confident. For years it would have been tough for them when things weren’t going so well. It has been nice this year and last year that we’ve got performances and results, so they want to talk about it. That comes with being a county player,” he adds.

Since that Munster championship debut against Clare in the 2014 semi-final the St Finbarr’s man has played in all the championship meetings between the sides — being a winner on all four occasions as the Rebels have continued their Munster championship dominance over the Banner County that stretches back to 1999.

But he’s quick to admit that, “every time you go out and play them you know you’re going to have to be at your best to beat them, because they have some fantastic players. 

“We don’t concentrate too much on the opposition anyway. All we can do is concentrate on our own game and try and go out and give a good account of ourselves.

“You prepare in training for every possibility. Whether it was Waterford the last day, whether it was Limerick the game before that, you’re trying to prepare for every single possibility. We did the same last year and the short puck out was one of the possibilities that came up in training. We’d worked on it and thankfully on the day it worked out for us.

“Who is to say the next day they could throw something very different at us. Hopefully it’s something we’ve prepared for in training,” he adds.

Of course, a big part of that training has been the learning curve involved in embracing the new championship structure, something Cahalane has had to do when coming into it cold in terms of having no competitive hurling under his belt this year.

“I only had ten minutes against Wexford when I came on when still half injured,” he reveals. “The Munster championship format was very taxing. Thrown into the middle of it fellas have work — the recovery time, you’re not a professional athlete, you try your best to prepare as a professional athlete and you try your best to prepare as a professional athlete would but with work and with life on the side of it, it doesn’t really allow for that. 

“I think fellas do look after themselves as best they can. If they weren’t you would have seen a complete collapse in the third or fourth game. It’s tough but fellas would rather be playing games than training on a Sunday morning.

“The most challenging aspect is physical recovery. You are coming out of week one with a knock, you’re coming out of week two with a knock and then you’re going into week three and you’re still not recovered from the knock you took in week one. It’s a short turnaround but fellas are looking after themselves to the best of their abilities and trying to get the bodies right.”

The bodies are right for Sunday — as are Clare’s, which in turn sets up the prospect of a sparkling climax to perhaps the greatest Munster Championship ever. “I wouldn’t think the first match has any relevance,” reasons Cahalane. 

“We knew going into game one against Clare we were going to have to bring our A game to get a performance against them. Even at that you’re still not guaranteed getting a result. Obviously they have improved in the meantime. 

“We’re going to have to go above and beyond what we brought the first day. A huge thing for them, and you can see that if the last couple of games, is their confidence. They seem to be very confident in what they’re doing.”

And, no one is playing with more confidence than John Conlon, with a stand-off against Cahalane now in the offing. “He’s going well,” says Cahalane,” and I’ve marked him. He’s a strong guy and everything else, but they could be throwing anyone in there the next day. I’d have marked a good few of them.

“You have to go into every game confident in your own ability. If you don’t go in confident in your ability to get a performance you might as well not go out. What we are is that we’re confident in our preparation, confident we’ve done everything right to put ourselves in the best position to win, that’s about it.”

It’s over to the 70 minutes. 

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