Transfers give GAA talent the opportunity to embrace limelight

Listowel man Conor Cox celebrates following Roscommon’s win over Mayo in the Connacht Senior Football Championship semi-final at MacHale Park in Castlebar. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

There were four big football games on Saturday evening, three blowout wins for Meath, Dublin and Tyrone, and one thoroughly enthralling contest in Castlebar. 

It was a proper championship kick around much like the entertainment served up by Longford and Kildare on Sunday afternoon.

Football has served up a few crackers in the shadow of the heavy flood of early summer hurling coverage.

The last time we saw Mayo, they were making hay in New York while a few thousand of their supporters danced and sang their way around Marty Morrissey and the Naked Cowboy in Times Square. 

There was to be no Marty party last weekend for the green and red army as Roscommon ground out a famous and fully deserved victory in MacHale Park.

It sent James Horan back to the drawing board somewhat, and it was those old traditional failings that cost the home side a trip back to the Connacht final. 

Their efficiency in attack was as wayward as it was a few weeks previous on American soil and it leaves them in the unenviable position of having to get through the next eight games if they are to somehow win the All-Ireland.

If Cillian O’Connor was available it may have been a different story, as he continues to be a colossal loss up front, and his relentless accuracy from frees alone would probably have been enough to see them over the line on Saturday night.

In the absence of Mayo’s blue-chip attacker, Conor Cox stepped forward to announce himself in senior championship football in serious style. 

You’ve heard his story by now I’m sure; he’s from Listowel in North Kerry and played all his football for the local Emmets club and their divisional side Feale Rangers.

He represented Kerry at every grade possible and won a few All-Irelands at Junior level. 

He played under Billy Morgan at UCC and brought the same attacking edge to every team he was a part of, twice picking up the Sigerson player of the year with his college.

If you talk to anybody who knows the club game down here in Kerry, Cox would be regarded as fearful a scorer as any player in the county, well capable of kicking double digits against you on any given Sunday.

When talk of his move to Roscommon was being mooted at the beginning of the year, there were plenty in Kerry wondering why he wasn’t getting a crack in his own county given the new management and a fresh slate. 

Was he not worth another look?

He was probably unlucky that there was an abundance of inside attacking talent available when he was coming on the scene at senior level. 

Among others, he found himself competing with guys like a prime James O’Donoghue, Gooch, Paul Geaney, Kieran Donaghy, and later, David Clifford, for a jersey and championship minutes. 

Despite getting a few half cracks at it during early season Allianz League games, he never managed to establish himself as a player of consequence within the county senior squad.

Watching him last weekend, it was difficult to imagine he wouldn’t be good enough to make an impact in some capacity for Kerry as the summer rolled around. 

I’m not aware of the intricacies of who initiated the move, but whoever was responsible for getting Cox up the road to Roscommon did as shrewd a piece of business as the county has ever done. 

Through their league campaign, he has become the centre-piece of their forward unit with his ball winning and scoring and they now look a real threat with the way they defend and move the ball forward with the foot.

It got me thinking; how many more Conor Cox’s are out there? How many other players are in Dublin or Kerry, Tyrone or anywhere else who are deemed not quite good enough to make their home team but would be a massive addition for another county?

I’m not suggesting we start to employ an open transfer market at inter-county level in the GAA, but there is no doubt that there are players who can’t make an impression on their home patch but could be potential game changers in less fortunate counties.

There’s been plenty of inter-county transfers down through the years, which were much more prevalent during the early period of the association when travel around the country wasn’t as easy as it is today. 

More recently, Karl O’Dwyer played with Kerry and Kildare while Brian Lacey, Larry Tompkins, Shea Fahy, Billy Joe Padden and Seanie Johnson are just a few that crossed borders and lived to tell the tale.

There is unquestionably a stigma attached to the idea of playing for an adopted home, under somebody else’s flag. 

It’s not the traditional route to playing senior inter-county GAA, but given the success of Cox in Roscommon, it’ll be interesting to see who’ll be next.

When Jack Charlton and the FAI went looking to upgrade the playing talent available to them, they exploited rules that afforded players the opportunity to represent the country by virtue of their grandparent’s connection to the Republic.

While there are arguments for and against, there is no denying the fact that the addition of some of those players through Article 18 of the FIFA constitution pushed Ireland into being a relevant international force.

There seems to be an open market for coaches and managers to operate with complete impunity behind any county crest, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if we see a few more Jack Charltons and Conor Coxs popping up.

Perhaps, we might get to a point where those counties operating at the lower levels of the competition are granted one ‘import’ transfer every couple of seasons?

Maybe there’s another Dub like Pat Burke who played with the Sky Blues and later with Clare.

Surely there’s more in a county with a population close to 1.5 million people and only one representative team, with Carlow, Sligo, or Antrim lineage who would love the opportunity to play the game at inter-county level and who have a tangible link to the county?

Obviously, the practicalities would be a major issue, you couldn’t have a situation where some of the bigger counties were cherry-picking the likes of Mattie Forde or Declan Browne to upgrade their charges.

And I’m not even sure if you could stand over it as being morally right or wrong — it’s probably a shade of grey, that would need real clarity before making it a viable option for weaker counties looking to recruit.

If Conor Cox hadn’t made the move to his father’s homeplace of Roscommon, the likelihood is that he was never going to play senior inter-county championship football and whatever about the ethical dilemma involved, that would surely have been a travesty for all concerned.

Mike Quirke's Football Podcast: Do Mayo trust youth? More Conor Coxes. Two-tier effects. Cork's plan

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