Sunday 24 September 2017

Ambition driving top players to make switch

Moving makes sense at inter-county level, writes Marie Crowe

In the 1930s and '40s, players transferred to other counties for practical reasons. If playing for their native county wasn't viable because footballers and hurlers had left home in search of work, they just played where they worked because of the difficulties in getting back to their native place for matches.

Seven decades later, that hasn't changed too much. Footballer Austin O'Malley has just completed his transfer from Mayo to Wicklow. He is 30 now, teaching in Dublin for the last number of years but still feels he has something to offer at inter-county level. However, an eight-hour round trip three times a week to play for Mayo is not something he is prepared to do anymore.

"At this stage in my career, I want to keep as fresh as possible and driving across the country numerous times a week doesn't allow for that. But at the same time I'm not ready to quit yet," said O'Malley. "Sometimes it's just not conducive to travel up and down for training, so overall being able to transfer to a different county is a positive thing when it helps a player achieve his goals and his dreams."

Mick O'Dwyer put him through his first training session with his new team-mates on Wednesday night. It was tough but O'Malley is looking forward to the new challenge that lies ahead.

His former team-mate Billy Joe Padden also transferred this year, moving to Armagh where he is living and working -- again it just made sense for him.

The Dublin hurlers' newest recruit Ryan O'Dwyer also went down this route. The former Tipperary hurler has secured a teaching job in Templeogue and decided to switch his allegiance. Although practical reasons drove his move, playing for Dublin also offered him new opportunities.

"Moving county gave me a chance to make a name for myself and establish myself. I'm a very competitive person and I want to compete at the highest level and Dublin are doing that. If you're playing right now with Dublin, you are going to be part of something special because something is going to happen. They are going to make the breakthrough in the next few years and it would be great to be part of that. In Tipperary, if you win an All-Ireland you're treated like a god but there are a lot of people in Tipperary who have won them."

But it hasn't been all plain sailing for O'Dwyer. Moving clubs was a big challenge for him. Club hurling in his native Cashel is on the way up and O'Dwyer found it hard to leave.

"I need to prove to all the Dublin people that I'm not here just to play inter-county, I'm here to make Dublin hurling better. I'm in it to make a difference, be part of Dublin hurling and to show to the Dublin public that it means just enough to me as it does to any of the lads who were born here."

In the past, inter-county transfers have occurred sporadically, most of them never made headlines and besides Larry Tompkins and Shea Fahy, who helped Cork win All-Ireland titles after transferring from Kildare in the 1980s, few in recent memory have made any major impact on the final destination of the Sam Maguire or the Liam McCarthy.

While club transfers are making headlines and causing controversy, county transfers are proving hassle-free. They are in many ways the exception to the rule.

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