Ciarán Murphy: Versatile Podge Collins bucks dual player trend

Banner star has been serving both Clare sides with distinction this summer

 

There are seven games on in the All-Ireland senior football championship this weekend, and the opening game on Saturday features my man of the summer so far.

Clare travel to Sligo for a 2pm throw-in on Saturday in their Round 3A qualifier match, with Podge Collins in tow and ready for action just six days after playing his second senior intercounty championship game in 20 hours.

This wasn’t supposed to happen any more. The tightening of league schedules into February, March and April should make it intolerable for players to attempt the dual mandate. And even if you did make it through the spring, the back door system in the hurling and football championships, and the greater quantity of games in both codes, made it logistically improbable at best, and more likely completely unworkable.

And yet there he was, with 22 minutes to go against Laois in Ennis last Sunday, sauntering on to lend his assistance to his football team-mates, while the men he hurled with in Thurles the previous evening were no doubt in the shallow end of the pool in full recovery mode.

Maybe it all seems like such an ill-advised idea that people are happy to just stand back and let him have a swing at it, but at the moment it’s paying off. Patience would not be long running out among Clare people if Collins’ hurling seemed even marginally out of sync, but his display in scoring three points against Limerick last Saturday might have been his best game for Clare since 2013. When you think about what his hurling game is based around – all wristy touches and tireless work ethic – he seems uniquely ill-suited to the task of playing both sports simultaneously.

That touch is something that hurlers feel going from them after only a few days without picking up a hurley. It’s their ‘precious’, the toothpaste you can’t put back in the tube. And yet Collins has managed to get back to the heights of 2013 with a hurley in his hand, and still contribute to a football team that’s really going places.

Their win against Laois on Sunday was a huge result, but it had been coming.

Already this year they’ve won promotion from Division Three to Division Two, and the nature of their victory in the Division Three final against Kildare, scoring 2-17 in the sunshine in Croke Park, was the sort of day that would have tempted Podge to stick around with the big ball.

It’s a feat of sporting excellence and dedication that deserves to be celebrated, but if the footballers do happen to beat Sligo, as they’ve done already this year in the league, trouble looms because he will be forced into action twice in 24 hours again on the weekend after next – only this time, the footballers will be first up.

And this is at the heart of the dilemma. Covering every blade of grass for the hurlers, and then doing what you can for the footballers a number of hours later, is one thing. Doing it the other way around, which is what he might have to do in 10 days’ time, is another matter altogether. Because even with his father in charge of the football team, it will be a hard balance to strike.

The majority of Clare GAA fans will want him primed for a tilt at Galway in Thurles in the hurling quarter-finals that Sunday. But he will also be only 70 minutes away from helping the Clare footballers back to Croke Park for the first time since 1992 that Saturday – and how do you be true to yourself in a bind like that?

The truth of the matter is there aren’t many clubs south of Athlone who would see Podge Collins as a hero deserving of our respect.

Tipperary are busy forcing their minors to choose a sport before they’ve filled out their CAO forms.

In 2013 Lee Chin managed to play for both Wexford senior sides on the same weekend, but felt he couldn’t sustain it. Alan Cadogan and Aidan Walsh trained with the Cork football squad this week, but only after the hurlers had bowed out of the championship.

There is a wariness attached to hurling clubs fielding football teams that doesn’t do those towns and villages any favours. And it cuts both ways – efforts to spread hurling in the non-traditional counties have often withered on the vine due to lack of interest from clubs.

The GAA at central level did as much as they could for Collins by ensuring the Clare game last weekend were on separate days, and have done likewise for Round 4 of the qualifiers, if they get there. The bottom of the GAA pyramid would do well to try and facilitate Collins, and people like him, a bit better than they have done in recent times

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