Friday 19 January 2018

Return of dual star a year too late for Cork?

Rebels left to ponder what might have been after Walsh decision to try his hand at both codes in coming season

Aidan Walsh
Aidan Walsh
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

While Jimmy Barry-Murphy is no doubt pleased than Aidan Walsh has decided to combine football and hurling with Cork next year, his delight must be tinged with regret that the Kanturk giant didn't opt for the dual carriageway this season.

Every time the Cork manager watches a rerun of the drawn All-Ireland final and sees Conor Ryan making catch after catch in the Clare half-back line, he must be asking himself: 'I wonder what would have happened if Walsh was contesting those high balls.'

The answer remains a mystery, but there will always be a suspicion that Ryan would have found it a whole lot harder to dominate the Croke Park skies if Walsh's 6' 3" frame was challenging his airspace under Anthony Nash's puck-outs.

Since the game ended level, it's logical to assume that even the merest adjustment of the possession dial would have made a match-winning difference.

Instead, Ryan gave a man-of-the-match performance, Domhnall O'Donovan pilfered the equalising point for Clare and the rest is glorious Banner history.

In the replay – which was level on the hour mark before Clare hit an unanswered 2-3 – Walsh's ball-winning capacity would have brought an important boost to Cork's attempt.

Add in the absence of Eoin Cadogan, who left the hurling panel early in the year to concentrate solely on football, and it's easy to understand why these long nights are teasing Cork supporters into believing that the absence of two excellent dual players cost them an All-Ireland hurling title. It's a tortured process, especially since the footballers lurched further adrift of the main action in what was an era-ending campaign for Conor Counihan and several of his squad.

A combination of retirements and the obvious imperative to overhaul a squad which appeared jaded this year affords new football manager Brian Cuthbert the opportunity to bring several clean slates into training next month (having been eliminated from the championship in August, Cork can't resume until December 8).

Walsh will be a central figure in the football rebuild, but, for the next few years, he plans to combine both codes. Boosted by that news, Barry-Murphy will surely be hoping that Cadogan rethinks his career too and returns to the dual mandate.

Still, he will be 28 years old next year, an age when even in the glory days of dual players some opted to concentrate on one sport only, so it's probably unlikely that Cadogan will return to hurling.

TEMPTED

Nonetheless, he must be tempted, especially since it's clear that Barry-Murphy and Cuthbert will happily accommodate players who are sufficiently driven for dual action.

Even if Cadogan remains with the footballers, Walsh's arrival on the hurling panel will be a significant boost as JBM attempts to reinforce various areas of the team.

Walsh won't be 24 until January, sufficiently youthful to test himself in both codes, once the proper structures are in place.

Obviously, it won't be possible to fulfil the dual role on a consistent basis during the National League campaigns, which often feature hurling and football action on the same weekends, but since every season is defined by championship results, that won't bother Barry-Murphy or Cuthbert.

The Munster championships will offer no hurling/football clashes for Cork, so the only scheduling problem for Walsh will arise if both teams are despatched into the All-Ireland qualifiers.

That wasn't a sufficiently good reason not to try his case on both fronts, which he has now done, much to the delight of all those who believe that dual talents have a place in today's game.

There will, of course, be those who claim that Walsh is making a mistake by spreading himself across both sports.

The modern-day argument contends that inter-county hurling and football are so 'professional' that it's impossible for players to combine both at the highest level.

But then in an era when 'experts' roam the land, pedalling mumbo-jumbo as if were an unquestionable truth, reality can be easily side-tracked.

Most team managers peddle the 'one man, one sport' line as if it's an act of faith when, in fact, it's no more than a self-serving attempt to have full control of players. That's why Barry-Murphy and Cuthbert are to be congratulated for their sensible approach.

Counihan was equally broad-minded on the dual player, but then that has generally been the case on Leeside down through the years.

I recall some years ago interviewing Cork's Brian Murphy, the most successful dual player in GAA history, and he made the point that during his playing days (1970s-80s), serving the two codes presented no problem.

"The dual player was regarded as a natural part of GAA life and was accommodated as much as possible. Now, a lot of managers want players to concentrate on one sport only and while that's understandable up to a point, they are putting their own interests ahead of the players," he said.

In fairness to Cork, that has rarely been an issue but has caused problems in other counties.

Walsh's decision to join the dual mandate club is an exciting development, sending out the clear message that for all the pressures of being a modern-day inter-county player, there are still those who are willing to test themselves in both hurling and football.

If Walsh had waited another year, it's unlikely he would have put himself forward for the hurling team. Instead, he would have been left wondering for the rest of his life how he might have fared at the highest level in small-ball land.

ROAM

On the basis of his performances with Cork U-21s a few years ago, he will fit easily into the senior scene, probably in the half-forwards, with a license to roam in towards the full-forward zone. It's an exciting prospect for Cork, even if they must be regretting that he hadn't made this decision a year ago.

The big question now is whether Walsh's double-booking is a one-off or the start of a trend where gifted dual players test themselves in both codes.

Anthony Daly will, no doubt, have noted Barry-Murphy's good fortune in acquiring such a fine talent just as he's beginning the serious planning for the new season.

Question is, will Daly consider phoning Ciaran Kilkenny and attempt to persuade him to become a Dublin dual player? It would be a massive boost to Daly's squad if the ultra-talented Castleknock youngster followed Walsh down the dual carriageway.

Daly must be mighty tempted to make that call.

Irish Independent

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