'I always want to be the best at what I do' - Paul Cahillane
Rory Delaney talks to Portlaoise forward Paul Cahillane as he prepares for the All-Ireland semi-final
With an All-Ireland semi final fast approaching, Paul Cahillane has had to make a few concessions in how spends his time preparing for the biggest game of his career to date.
After the Leinster semi-final win over Clara, Portlaoise manager John Mulligan singled out his corner forward for extra praise. Mulligan pointed out that he regularly does extra training, and works on his free-taking and other aspects of his play even when no-one else is around. It's a dedication to improving himself which has clearly reaped rewards for him, as he was, without doubt, the most improved player in the county last year.
Recently, however, his free time has started to be eaten up, but in a good way at least. He's been selected as the AIB Leinster Club Player of the Year, and he collected that award at a gala presentation yesterday (Tuesday) morning. He has also been selected as the Leinster Express Footballer of the Year, and so will have another award to pick up later in the month.
While the player himself admits the personal honours are nice, they won't determine how successful his season has been. "The personal awards are great, but I don't think they will seem like as much if we don't go on and win an All-Ireland, that's the only thing I want."
Cahillane and his team mates have been installed as favourites for the title they so desperately covet, and much of that is down to the free-flowing football they have been playing since they first started their championship campaign against Mountmellick. The inter-play between their forwards and the manner in which they attack have out-foxed every team they have come up against so far, with Cahillane's pace and movement in the corner a highlight of his own contribution.
Having had a stint with Celtic FC when he younger, he has a background in soccer, where movement and awareness of where you are on the pitch are crucial. Does he think that has helped him since his return to football? "It probably has, but the way I look at it, if a defender can't hold on to you he can't stop you, and if you're always moving it makes it more difficult on him. You know what you're doing before you go out, and it's about trying to get that half a yard ahead of your man."
Had things gone differently for Cahillane in Celtic, he may have missed out on this opportunity. When he returned from Scotland, he had a spell in the Eircom League but, as he says himself, was let down by the club he was with. All the while, Portlaoise were in touch, and he played some intermediate football before committing to the game once his time in the Eircom League was up. That commitment was tested last summer, but the draw of possible success held his loyalties. "I was going to go to Boston last summer, but I knew Portlaoise were quite strong. I always want to be the best at what I do and play at the highest level, so I decided not to go."
It has proved to be a wise choice, and he is one player which Munster champions Kilmurry-Ibrickane will be trying to contain when the sides meet on February 21. The Clare champions surprised many by coming through Munster, and Portlaoise's favourites tag was only strengthened when Kilmurry scraped over London champions Tr Chonaill Gaels.
Portlaoise's philosophy usually sees them focus on what they can do on any given day rather than focus on the opposition, and this is something Cahillane subsribes to. "That's the way I would be, we've watched their games and they are more defensive than some teams, but I would have to look at it and think what can I do to unlock them? You could harp on about what they have and haven't and their strength's and weaknesses, but at the end of the day it's down to what we do."
Their preparations have been hampered somewhat by the adverse weather conditions over the Christmas and New Year period, as they were forced indoors and onto astro turf pitches to continue their training. It hasn't been ideal, but it was the best they could do in the circumstances, and with the weather having improved Cahillane is hoping for a more settled run up to the semi-final. "We had one or two games called off and we couldn't train on pitches as much as we would have liked. Our numbers were down at times as well because lads just couldn't get to training. We could train on the astro turf, but it's not the same. It was a bit stop-start but we have to focus now and settle down for the next few weeks."
Much of this year has seen Cahillane tread through, what are for him, uncharted waters. Having only been able to devote himself to football relatively recently this is mostly new experiences for him, but luckily there are players on the Portlaoise team who have been here before.
While younger players like Cahillane, Brian Glynn and Kieran Lillis have been grabbing headlines, the older players like Kevin Fitzpatrick, Brian McCormack and Aidan Fennelly are the foundation on which their success has been built. For a young player coming through, Cahillane admits they were very influential when he first came on board. "In the first couple of games I needed them an awful lot, they really tell you what you need to do or always try to help you out, and they have been a massive help to me."
It's hard to imagine he needed all that much advice, such is his level headed approach to the game and life in general. His solid work ethic and willingness to better himself extend beyond football too. When he left for Celtic, he did so before he had a chance to sit his Leaving Cert. When he came back, he returned to his studies and finished out his secondary school education in Leeson Street, earning himself a place in NUI Maynooth, studying Business and Geography in what is currently his first year in the course. As he says himself, college life "is something I missed out on" when he pursued his career in soccer.
With an opportunity now to qualify for an All-Ireland final, it's one more thing he doesn't want to miss out on. He's made up for a lot of lost time since he came home, it's all about the future now.
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Weather for Portlaoise
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
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