Wednesday 17 July 2019

Colm Keys: 'How Cox's Roscommon switch and 'parentage rule' could spark new era of inter-county transfers'

Demographic shifts could bring underused rule more into play over the next decade

Going places: Conor Cox, held shoulder high by Roscommon supporters on Sunday, has become totally comfortable with his ‘new’ identity. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Going places: Conor Cox, held shoulder high by Roscommon supporters on Sunday, has become totally comfortable with his ‘new’ identity. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

By their standards, Kerry names have been somewhat scarce on the PwC All-star football team in recent years - David Clifford and Paul Geaney the only recipients since their last All-Ireland final appearance in 2015.

But if the team was being selected right now, even at this early stage of the season when they've barely had to flex their muscles, they'd be guaranteed representation.

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Like Clifford and Geaney before him, this player oozes quality, is capable of spectacular scores and has been leading the line impressively in his three championship games to date.

There is a twist, of course. Conor Cox has not been playing for his native county but the county of his father's birth, Roscommon, with whom he has been such a pivotal figure. Cox transferred to Roscommon under what is loosely known as the 'parentage rule' in the GAA's rule book.

More strictly defined, it relates to transfers where 'other relevant connections' are in place. At county level, that constitutes playing with a particular county if the player's parents at the time of his birth were permanently resident in that county or if it's the county of the 'first club' (original home club) of one of those parents.

These avenues are open to 14 counties to take advantage of in football - Leitrim, Sligo, Longford, Carlow, Fermanagh, Kilkenny, Laois, Cavan, Roscommon, Wicklow, Clare, Offaly, Tipperary and, most recently, Westmeath.

The criteria to qualify is not set in stone. In fact, it's a little hazy, to say the least.

Population is a factor but not a defining one as the presence of Wicklow and Tipperary would suggest.

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Historical success isn't an accurate measure either. Tipperary, after all, have been All-Ireland semi-finalists as recently as three years ago, Roscommon have won two of the last three Connacht titles and have been a Division 1 team in three of the last four years, while Cavan have also had two different spells in the top flight of league football and are in preparations for an Ulster final this weekend, albeit their first in 18 years.

Even Westmeath's acceptance in this group in recent months is a curious one, as they, like Wicklow, are benefiting from the population spread from Dublin.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, the rule is there to be used to good advantage. The evidence would suggest that it's much underused, even though some managers have been actively checking breeding lines and 'scouting' the east coast for recruits!

Shane Horan, a Dublin SFC winner with Kilmacud Crokes last year, declared for Offaly and has featured in both championship games to date, David Devereux and Oisín Manning play with Dublin clubs but have been involved with Wicklow, Kevin Gilmore's club is Skerries Harps but his county is Longford, while Jack Smith is also Skerries but part of the Westmeath squad.

But that could be about to change as the demographics point to continued acceleration to urban areas, especially on the east coast. And the success of Cox in recent months could act as a catalyst.

Transferring to a county that there might have been a tenuous link to in formative years or even the county of a parent's birth is not for everyone.

Cox was different in that respect. His father Martin lives in the county, the catchment area of the éire óg club, and when they played Armagh in last year's fourth-round qualifier in Portlaoise he was in the stands supporting them.

On Monday, footage of the Roscommon players visiting Paddy Joe Burke's barber shop in 'midtown' Roscommon emerged and it was clear how much at ease the Listowel man was as one of the first through the door with the Nestor Cup for the proprietor to pay homage to. Cox has become totally comfortable with his 'new' identity in a way that others might not.

But there is still an opportunity for others to pursue a similar move. Looking at him now, it's hard to believe that he could be surplus to requirements in Kerry but the margins between making it or not can be minimal.

Kerry have had a lot of decent inside forwards in the last few years. Maybe, just maybe Cox doubted himself as a Kerry footballer but was more comfortable in the Roscommon ecosystem and that allowed him to flourish as he has done this year.

Historically, movement between counties was commonplace in the GAA, the logistics of travel and transport dictating that a player played wherever he laid his hat.

It became less common in more modern times but the arrival of Larry Tompkins and Shea Fahy to Cork from Kildare at the same time in the late 1980s was the trigger for a big Rebel revival. Conversely, Kildare profited from Brian Lacey (Tipperary), Brian Murphy (Cork) and Karl O'Dwyer (Kerry) coming in the other direction at around the same time as Mick O'Dwyer's 'second coming'. These were, however, also club transfers as all three moved into the county on a permanent basis.

With Dublin's population continuing to boom and only one senior team to accommodate them, where will those who might feel equipped to play county football go when they realise the queue is too long?

Many will always harbour the ambition to play for Dublin, or whatever county they grew up in, and wouldn't countenance a move. That's understandable. But a change in environment to a county that there is an identifiable link to can potentially stir something when the other door is shut. Conor Cox is evidence of that.

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