Sport Hurling

Monday 18 December 2017

Juggling act retains top billing in dual sideshow

It's never been harder to play both codes

Eoin Cadogan
Eoin Cadogan

Damian Lawlor

UNLIKE his glittering sporting career, Teddy McCarthy's memoir didn't immediately take off when it hit the shelves. But it's beginning to leave its mark now.

People may have wondered why McCarthy would wait the best part of two decades before putting pen to paper but Teddy Boy is a raw, honest and revealing account of the many highs and lows McCarthy enjoyed and endured. Those range from winning two All-Ireland senior titles in the same year to the many personal troubles he suffered beyond the tunnel, including the death of his father and brother at young ages, the break-up of his marriage and a 2007 drink-driving conviction which thrust him fully into the public glare.

One thing that can never be taken away from him, however, is his status as one of the GAA's finest dual players – he remains the only man to win senior All-Ireland hurling and football titles, achieved when Cork did the double in 1990.

And it seems unlikely that will ever be matched, especially after a week in which two pretenders to McCarthy's dual throne, Damien Cahalane and Eoin Cadogan, declared their intentions to jettison hurling in favour of football this year.

McCarthy always had a tangible sense that few in the GAA, outside of Cork, embraced the notion of playing two codes. "Often during my life I had occasion to wonder if the people who run the GAA actually appreciate the valuable asset they have in the dual player," he wrote in his autobiography. "I don't believe they do. In fact, I believe they would be happier if there was no such thing."

Inevitably for McCarthy, football and hurling clashed several times each year. In February 1985, when he was first named in the football team to play Armagh in the first round of the NFL, he was also selected to play for the senior hurlers against Galway on the same day. It took representatives of both teams to reach the conclusion that the footballers' need was greater.

By 1992 – despite having proven his warrior-like status in both codes – he was still choosing between the two. Cork had produced more dual players than anyone else in the history of the GAA but the Munster Council still decided to fix both teams on the same day in the championship – May 24. Both fixtures were against Kerry, and though the hurling result was a foregone conclusion, McCarthy still feared that missing the first game would cost him his place in the side for the rest of the year.

He loved playing games but gradually the strain on his body and mind took its toll. In the end McCarthy kicked off the summer of '92 by playing with the footballers. They lost and the hurlers won.

He writes in his book: "Two weeks later the hurlers played against Tipperary in Thurles and who was on the front page of the match programme? You've guessed it – the guy who had to choose football over hurling two weeks earlier. It was very hard to make sense out of that."

It seems now as if Damien Cahalane has spared himself that predicament. Cahalane made his debut for Cork's footballers in last Sunday's McGrath Cup victory over Cork IT, but his decision to concentrate on football only was described as a "huge blow" by hurling selector Kieran Kingston. Just six months ago the 20-year-old was handed a first hurling championship appearance, playing full-back against Wexford in the qualifiers. He looked set to make the number three shirt his own.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy must look elsewhere now as Cahalane is determined to build on a football career that has included an All-Ireland minor final appearance along with two Munster under 21 titles.

Cadogan had a hard call to make after reportedly being told to choose between the two. And if Cork is unable to hold on to its dual players, it's surely curtains for what is already an endangered species.

"Only a few counties produce dual players at inter-county level – that is down to tradition and size," McCarthy observes in his book. "I don't believe the authorities have wanted dual players because it is an inconvenience to their schedules. The dual player is a thorn in their side."

At the same time he openly admits he would have struggled had the qualifier system been in operation during his time. In fact, McCarthy wonders aloud if he would ever have got to win two All-Irelands in the same year had the back door been in operation.

"Imagine the demands," he continued. "I wouldn't be sure there will be too many more in the future. In the desire to create more and more games for our players at every level a terrible sacrifice is being made – the dual player is that sacrifice. I do not believe that is good for the GAA."

It's hard to argue with any of that. Yet, where hope springs people will always sup. The dual light shines brightly in Wexford, for example. Liam óg McGovern and Ciarán Lyng won't feature for the hurlers this year but manager Liam Dunne is keen on giving Lee Chin and Andrew Shore, two quality footballers, every chance of doing so. With proper communication, some productive arrangements can surely be struck between the parties.

It's not as promising in Dublin. Tomás Brady's declaration for the footballers has reignited the fight for the dual player in the capital.

The Dubs reached minor football and hurling All-Ireland finals in 2011 and 2012 and a talented batch of dual stars have duly emerged, like Cormac Costello, Eric Lowndes, Conor McHugh and Donal Gormley. And with Ciaran Kikenny back in the picture, there's bound to be a tug-of-love between Jim Gavin and Anthony Daly for his services.

Clare is another county with a healthy spread of dual players – Seán and Podge Collins, Cathal McInerney and Liam Markham, all Cratloe, are top-class performers in both codes but it's not even countenanced that they will leave Davy Fitzgerald's hurling revolution. Indeed, football manager Mick O'Dwyer says he won't even approach those who are in Fitzgerald's plans.

"I had dual players in Wicklow (Leighton Glynn and Stephen 'Chester' Kelly) but I know in Clare if a player has a real chance of getting on the hurling team he'll definitely concentrate on playing hurling," O'Dwyer says.

It's nowhere near as clear-cut in Tipperary where 10 dual players featured on last year's minor panels. With expert guidance from the likes of County Games manager Dinny Maher, other administrators and development squad mentors, Tipp are making a real go of it.

This year it's planned to compel development squad players from under 14 to minor to keep diaries logging the demands on their bodies and minds to help safeguard their welfare.

"Player development is the first thing I'd be looking at," Maher says. "At the age of 14 or 15 I think children should be exposed to as much sport as possible. There's nothing wrong with that provided we have organisation in place. Organisation is the key word – we've been working hard and edging towards that player diary system over the last while and we plan on introducing it soon.

"If an under 14 player comes into our squads they should get used to the process of logging everything from that age which will help us identify when the biggest demands on their time are made. It's important we get that system going. A player in such demand must log what is going on in his sporting life."

Kilsheelan's talented youngster Bill Maher captained the minor hurlers to All-Ireland glory last year and won a Munster minor title with the footballers. He also featured on school teams, and every adult team, in both codes, for his club.

Maher, and several others, were able to achieve such landmarks because of a healthy dynamic between Willie Maher and David Power, the respective managers. Both minor panels trained at Dr Morris Park on the same nights which ensured that no youngster was on the road to Thurles four nights a week for training.

"If communication between all parties is good, players have a decent chance of pursuing both hurling and football up to under 21 level," Dinny Maher says. "We don't just focus heavily on one code here so if a guy comes to an interview looking to become the next minor football or hurling manager, understanding the dual issue is now a necessity for him. He must see the bigger picture and be prepared to work and communicate with players and other parties. We have lots of dual players in every underage squad we produce now, that's the reality."

At such an early stage in life, youngsters can erase a bad day with a click of their fingers and move on. Physically and emotionally, however, once they surpass under 21 level things get more complicated. They could be caught between two stools.

"A chap may be on the first 15 with a hurling team, but spending most of his time with the footballers trying to break into that as well and maybe his hurling will

suffer," Maher continues. "Or maybe a guy who is just that little bit better at football may see his natural game suffer because he is mostly with the hurlers.

"Our job in Tipp is to give the players access to whatever sport they wish to pursue, but most of them will have to make a decision at some stage. And physically and logically it will be hard to see a player combining both games at the very top level unless they are expertly micro-managed by both senior football and hurling managers."

Still, the dual player is not yet consigned to history. It may be an eternal juggling act, but just as you think that sports science and cop on tell you that it's destined for a black hole, a bunch of kids emerge and try their hand at it. They'll hurl on Saturday and kick football on Sunday and they'll do it for as long as they can.

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