Dual and darlin' players, unfortunately, belong to rare auld times
On Gaelic Games:Fuelling the energy and commitment Liam O’Neill brings to the presidency of the GAA is a strong dose of romanticism, but he rarely lets it get in the way of practicalities.
Last week, the president and Cork’s Teddy McCarthy had an exchange on one of the more recurrent causes célèbres within the GAA – the dual player and his apparent imminent extinction.
Some of the most fabled achievements in GAA history are rooted in dual achievement – the late Taoiseach Jack Lynch – the first player to win Railway Cup medals in both codes, Dublin’s Des Foley, who emulated him but on the one day, and McCarthy himself, the only winner of two All-Ireland senior medals in the same year.
The president diplomatically rejected the less temperate elements of the criticism and endorsed the right of players to pursue dual playing careers.
“Are we putting the players first?” he mused. “If we are putting players first, they should have the freedom to play whichever sport. They are amateur games, after all, and my wish would be that a player who wants to play both codes should be facilitated.”
The president may have uncharacteristically erred in the direction of sentiment on this, as it’s not clear to what extent dual players can be facilitated any more.
Most obviously, there is the issue of managers putting pressure on talented footballers and hurlers to ditch one of the games and Liam O’Neill is right that such pressures are unfair. But that was not the thrust of McCarthy’s criticism.
Even if the accusation the GAA was motivated by greed in establishing the All-Ireland qualifiers format is unfounded, there’s no doubt it is a large contributory factor in making dual status essentially untenable.
The issue has been in the news recently with Cork’s Eoin Cadogan bringing down the curtain on the latest attempt to keep afloat a career in both games and opting for the county footballers. He did so as Damien Cahalane was making a similar commitment and while hurling talents such as – in particular – Aidan Walsh and Ciarán Sheehan steadfastly continue to concentrate on the big ball.
Football partisans might point out that down through Cork history this has happened, but more usually the other way around, with good footballers being waved off in fond regret like Richard Dreyfuss stepping into the space ship at the end of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind before blasting off to a more advanced civilisation.
There’s similar tensions in Dublin where a cohort of young players have played in both All-Ireland minor finals, but on the evidence to date, football, unsurprisingly, is exerting a stronger pull.