Thursday 22 February 2018

Lowndes proves there are no hard borders at inter-county level

Stuart Lowndes made his debut for Meath Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Stuart Lowndes made his debut for Meath Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Most January action doesn't catch much attention but last Wednesday night Stuart Lowndes jumped a fence that is rarely scaled.

Lowndes made his debut for Meath in the O'Byrne Cup - two years after he had played for Dublin in the same competition against the Royal County.

It's an unusual move for a footballer to make, especially given the rivalry between the counties. And to muddy the waters further, Lowndes' brother is an established member of Dublin's all-conquering football squad. And his switch opens up the possibility of two brothers lining out against each other in a Leinster final, should both teams make it that far.

Lowndes' family have strong connections in Meath. And his particular situation can likely be put down in part at least to an increasingly blurred border between Meath and Dublin that has seen many Dubliners settle in their neigbhouring county.

But perhaps it also hints at a new-found willingness amongst players to look beyond traditional boundaries to play at a higher level. And with counties keen deepen their talent pool, they are also more open to accommodating players under the GAA parentage rule.

Stephen O'Connor, who won an All-Ireland club title with Ballyboden St Enda's last year, is also involved in the Meath set-up, having played both football and hurling for Dublin at underage level.

It has worked the other way too between the Leinster rivals. Michael Deegan, son of former Dublin star Mick, has been part of successful Dublin underage sides but much of his football education happened with his Meath club Donaghmore Ashbourne. He played for them as they lost last year's Meath SFC final.

Such switches in allegiance seem to be becoming more commonplace across the country. Last weekend a former Mayo hurler started at corner-back for the Clare footballers. Eoghan Collins won a Nicky Rackard title with the Connacht side in 2016 but this year threw his lot in with the Banner footballers.

Collins' decision surely came as a blow to Mayo but they have been the beneficiaries of the rule too as Ger and Joseph McManus - who play their club hurling with St Jude's in Dublin - lined out for them last year in that successful campaign. Their father hails from Mayo.

Lowndes and Collins have come to their adopted counties in different ways. Collins, a former Mayo underage footballer, qualifies for the Banner as his father John hails from Kilmihil. He is also a nephew of manager Colm Collins.

Meanwhile, Lowndes transferred to Meath club side Dunboyne from St Peregrine's in the capital a couple of seasons ago and has been drafted in by new manager Andy McEntee.

Clare have been particularly adept at using the parentage rule to their advantage. Pat Burke, who played with Dublin previously and won an All-Ireland club title with Kilmacud Crokes, has lined out for them in recent seasons. Shane McGrath is another Dublin native with family connections to the county who has served the Banner well of late.

Elsewhere, Derry hurling has also used the rule to their advantage. However, they may have to wait some time before getting their hands on Naoise and Cian Waldron. The brothers will have to finish their club commitments with Cuala before teaming up with the Oak Leaf County. They hail from Kilkenny but qualify as their mother is originally from The Loup. Patrick Kelly, who hurled with Clare as they won an All-Ireland in 2013, now plays for Kerry and has been central to their revival in recent season.

The talent flow isn't only from big counties to those with smaller resources either. Last year, the Waterford U-21s romped to All-Ireland glory and in their ranks was Jack Fagan, who had previously played for Meath.

It's hardly a new phenomenon but with all parts of the country so much more accessible now and both counties and players more willing to take a chance, it's seems the movement of talent between counties is only set to gather pace.

Irish Independent

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