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Ciarán Murphy: Loughmore-Castleiney’s double triumph explains rarity of dual clubs

Provincial championship the fall-guy if alternating hurling and football competitions

There have been, broadly speaking, two reactions going hand-in-hand to Loughmore-Castleiney’s scarcely believable double win in Tipperary this year. One has been to laud it as a truly extraordinary achievement. The other has been to say that it’s one in the eye to those people who believe that dual clubs are on the way out. See everyone, it can be done!

The problem is thinking you can agree with both. One directly counters the other, rather than complements it.

If their success means winning in two codes is something that can easily be done by many more clubs, then it automatically stands to reason that their achievement can’t be that exceptional.

And let’s be clear: what we have seen, over the last four weeks for those of us outside Tipperary, and for the last 17 weeks if you’ve been following this from the start, really is an exceptional achievement.

It’s the sheer audacity of their success, the sheer unlikeliness of it all, that makes it extraordinary. And it’s amplified by the fact that they came back to win two county finals by a point this year, having lost both county finals last year by a point. Let’s not presume that there are other Loughmore-Castleineys out there capable of that ridiculous level of consistency and excellence.

On the week of hurling games, they train as a hurling group. On the week of football games, they train as footballers. But it’s the same players, under the same manager.

This is one occasion where the demographics (a population of only around 1000 people, unbelievably) plays to their favour. If there were significant numbers of the panel who only played one or the other, they would be left without organised training for a week while the dual players ploughed on. It’s their sheer lack of numbers that simplifies matters.

To think, bouncing from one sport to another, winning county quarter-finals, and semi-finals in both codes. From there then to focusing on a county final, and all the nervous energy that you expend in the 48 hours before and the 48 hours after a game of that importance. To draw the hurling final, go out and win the football final courtesy of a last minute goal, and then for that same player (John McGrath, of course) to go and win the hurling replay with a pointed free from the sideline in injury time.

Seventeen straight weeks of going to the well, dropping your hurley every second week to pick up a football, before doing the reverse seven days later. Let’s not pretend this is anything less than a near sporting miracle.

They have had to split their time between the codes because Tipperary chose, as many other counties did, to play their county championships on alternate weekends. One county that didn't do that was Wexford, and Declan Ruth, the manager of their hurling champions Rapparees was speaking to The Irish Times on Tuesday in the aftermath of their defeat to Laois champions Clough-Ballacolla on Saturday.

He lamented the 11-week lay-off they had between the county final and the first round of the provincial championship, while all his players went off to play in the football championship for their sister club Rapparees-Starlights, who have been county champions in their own right recently.

I have quite a bit of sympathy for him in this specific case, but Wexford’s method remains the fairest way to play two championships in which there are multiple clubs with dual commitments.

If there has to be a fall-guy when playing hurling and football county championships one after the other, rather than on alternate weekends, then the provincial championship ambitions of the county champions should be that fall-guy.

I have always been extremely sceptical of provincial club championship concerns trumping the fair running of county championships. Every county board has a responsibility to play their county championships in a way that is as fair as possible to as many players and clubs as possible. The All-Ireland club championships are wonderful entertainment, but the tail cannot wag the dog.

Playing the hurling championship first, and only then starting the football championship, harmed Rapparees’ chances of winning the Leinster club hurling championship. That is inarguable. It also provided every dual player in Wexford the chance to focus solely on one sport for an extended period of time, and gave them the best chance to excel as a player and as a club. And that’s a price any county board should be willing to pay.

Different counties have to wrestle with different scenarios, and it’s not easy by any means, but the challenges facing dual players are only going to get worse in counties like Clare and Cork as well as in other counties without a strong tradition in both codes. If county boards don’t facilitate it, clubs will make their own minds up, and that will seldom favour dual players.

The fact that what we've seen from Loughmore-Castleiney over the last month or so is so unbelievable is the precise reason why most clubs aren't dual clubs. To use their success to try and persuade people otherwise is, quite frankly, double-think.

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