Monday 9 December 2019

Championship 2014 - The Great Debate

Does Cork's collapse against Kerry signal the deathknell of dual star?

Donnchadh Walsh of Kerry, in action against Cork's Aidan Walsh in the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Donnchadh Walsh of Kerry, in action against Cork's Aidan Walsh in the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Donnchadh Boyle & Vincent Hogan

YES says Donnchadh Boyle - In theory, it's a fine example of the Corinthian spirit. We love the idea of it, playing two codes. These are the players that the men in Hayes' Hotel dreamt of. Talented athletes turning a hand to hurling for a week and changing it up to excel at football the following Sunday.

The practicalities are much different. We expect our players to prepare like they are full-time athletes, but put it to any professional sporting organisation that you are asking players to perform in two different games that have only a governing body in common and you'll be told it's madness.

Cork's loss in the Munster final is being used as an example in this case, but it's only symptomatic of a wider issue.

Aidan Walsh, Damien Cahalane and Eoin Cadogan have a rare gift in that they have the talent and application to even attempt playing both codes. And no one will be surprised if they put in barnstorming performances in either code as the season unfolds. But sustaining high performances in both games nowadays is simply too much to ask of anyone. Teams are going to extraordinary lengths to find even the smallest advantage. Halving a player's preparation time flies in the face of that.

The work required to play inter-county now is all-encompassing and way beyond what was in place what any other great dual players like Teddy McCarthy or Liam Currams were asked to do.

The mental and physical demands – not to mention time/work pressures – are just too great.

Cork have a proud tradition with dual players, but the opinion around the country is that it simply isn't workable. Counties are gradually coming to that assertion.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin has built an impressive squad and some of his youngsters aren't even playing U-21 hurling with the county. Instead, they realise that to make it with the footballers, they will have to apply themselves completely from an early stage. Even in counties without the playing resources of Dublin where a dual player might be more willingly accommodated, the notion is losing traction.

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In Wexford, Lee Chin played both last year but he is 'hurling only' this year. Offaly also toyed with the idea, but abandoned it early in the year.

At lower levels, it is only slightly more manageable. Meath footballer Mickey Burke hurled for the county in their league campaign, but as the summer drew closer he concentrated on football.

There'll always be people who want to try and they shouldn't be discouraged. Ciaran Kilkenny has made no secret of that fact that he would like to hurl for Dublin one day and there will be more like him for whom the idea of walking away from one of the games they love won't sit comfortably.

They should just be aware that there's a trade-off that comes in the shape of an almost inevitable dip in performance against players whose focus isn't divided.

We still love the romance of the dual player and what it stands for. And rightly so. Logic and reason, however, take a much dimmer view.


Frankly, the very premise of today's debate highlights an instant prejudice against this poor, endangered species.

Cork footballers suffer a complete systems meltdown and, instantly, there is the cranking of a catapult with the dual player as its target. Brian Cuthbert used 21 men in Pairc Ui Chaoimh last Sunday – does it make sense for the forensic to fixate on one seventh of that number?

Aidan Walsh was Cork's saviour in their semi-final defeat of Tipperary. His hurling commitments didn't seem to represent any kind of millstone around his neck on June 21, so what exactly is supposed to have changed in the intervening weeks?

Walsh and Damien Cahalane were, arguably, Cork's two best players when the hurlers brought down All-Ireland champions, Clare, on June 15. How come their touch hadn't been hopelessly corrupted by football?

The main problem for dual players is the absence of any broad appetite for their existence in modern GAA life. The fixtures schedule offers no encouragement, so Cuthbert and Jimmy Barry-Murphy are exceptions to a general rule of self-interest dominating the policies of inter-county management.

Take Dublin. Why, logically, would the county's football manager encourage this kind of cross-pollination (or contamination as he might see it) when he knows he holds the Hollywood ticket? A Cormac Costello or a Ciaran Kilkenny would be wonderful additions to a Dublin hurling squad, but why would Jim Gavin allow them hurl for Anthony Daly when he doesn't have to?

Why would Liam Dunne want Lee Chin or Matthew O'Hanlon or Andrew Shore or Liam Og McGovern serving two masters? Likewise Davy Fitz with Podge Collins.

This is the fundamental problem with dual players, the fact that managers will – by and large – ring-fence their own interests (human nature), thus inviting the individual to make a choice.

The dual player is endangered, not because of any empirical evidence that the notion of a modern-day Teddy McCarthy or Liam Currams is pie in the sky, but because – Cuthbert and Barry-Murphy apart – few managers will even countenance facilitating the necessary research.

Walsh took an early knock last Sunday that seemed to impact on his performance, yet his ineffectiveness against a rampant Kerry team seemed to get framed exclusively by the 'dual' argument afterwards. Why?

If Henry Shefflin played poorly when introduced in last Sunday's Leinster hurling final, how many critiques would have been framed by misgivings about his 35-year-old legs? The fact that he floated over three imperious points in a 15-minute cameo means that, for this week at least, Henry will be ageless. But next time?

Dual commitments had nothing to do with Cork's difficulties last Sunday.

The modern GAA environment just has no appetite to admit it.

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