For the record, it wasn’t Podge Collins’ decision last month to concentrate on inter-county hurling that marked the end of the dual dodo. When the bionic Aidan Walsh opted for the hurlers in 2015, it confirmed this art of juggling had seen its day. When someone as insanely athletic as Walsh could no longer do it, nobody could.
Collins was a special case. Mostly out of respect for his father Colm, he lined out for the Clare footballers, but the writing was on the wall last year when he picked them after Davy Fitzgerald had made him choose between the two. “We did not have Podge with us as often as we would have liked and we felt his recovery between games was not what it could have been,” explained Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was more conciliatory to Collins’ situation this past season, yet he gleaned more from the player than his father and he continued to question the feasibility of the dual commitments. Collins may not ever tell Fitzgerald he was right to select one love over another, but then he had to see it for himself. Family ties meant that was difficult. Collins is as altruistic a sportsman as they come, but it’s only now that he’s really thinking about himself.
The GAA themselves had written off Collins and his ilk long before he did. In 2013, the Leinster Council fixed Wexford’s hurlers and footballers opening provincial games 24 hours apart, putting Lee Chin in a pickle. In previous years, there were two double weekends of football and hurling round league fixtures. From next season, there will be four. There will continue to be the likes of Keith Higgins, who can on occasions line out for the hurlers, but they will be exceptions. In truth, Higgins is an exception of exceptions.
Only three years ago, former GAA president Liam O’Neill said everything must be done to sanctify the dual player: “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.”
However, they simply can’t. What does that say about the amateur status of the inter-county scene?
In dual counties like Tipperary, if you fail in hurling, there is always football. The big ball diehards will hope that after this glittering season they will be seen as more of a fallback, but for them it’s a case of praying Steven O’Brien comes back to them from the hurlers in the spring.
It can safely be said for most dual counties, hurling reigns supreme and there is a strong possibility that fact will be underlined if GAA director general Páraic Duffy’s football championship proposals are passed in Congress in Croke Park at the end of February. For Tipperary, the mountain that will have to be scaled to reach an All-Ireland semi-final will be higher.
That comes under the auspices of a calendar year, which will put immense pressure on them, Cork, Dublin, and Galway to name but four. Obviously, club championship structures would have to be revised to give counties the best chance of participating in provincial competitions, but as of now, Tipperary and Waterford have struggled to do so. When push comes to shove, we have seen them prioritise hurling. Two years ago, Tipp had to concede games in the Munster senior and intermediate competitions, as it was decided their backlogged hurling schedule would be cleared first.
Last week, Duffy spoke to Tipperary’s county committee about his football championship proposals. He made some cogent arguments, but questions remain about the feasibility of the calendar season. Tipperary’s competition controls committee secretary Tom Maher revealed three further weekends would have to be made available to the clubs, but it was other remarks of his that were more telling. Speaking as a football man, he stated: “Hurling, in my opinion, has nothing to worry about.”
Concerns about Duffy’s plan are shared in predominantly football counties too. In his convention report released last week, Mayo secretary Vincent Neary was lukewarm about it: “My big fear is that if the club fixtures must be completed within the calendar year this will force the opening rounds of the provincial club championships to start earlier and if that were to happen then the window for our club championships will be narrowed greatly.”
There is so much goodness in Duffy’s plans to condense the inter-county season. Although it can be claimed it is paving the way for a tiered football championship — the replacement of the quarter-finals seems to be a victory for entertainment over equality, replays should be done away with and moving the finals to August is no longer a nettle to grasp.
It’s obvious clubs need more space and time.
However, what’s not being considered is that by adopting a calendar season, clubs too are going to be squeezed so counties may have representatives in the provincial championships. If and when that happens, dual counties will feel the pinch more, to the extent they could be forced to focus on one at the expense of another. Wouldn’t that be a sad state of affairs?
Hurling the capital’s poor relation
It’s five years this week that Dublin GAA’s Blue Wave Strategic Plan 2011-2017 was released to much fanfare and reaction.
A seriously ambitious plan, the success of the senior footballers have exceeded the set-out aspiration — the annexing of the Sam Maguire Cup once every three years proving that — but others remain unfulfilled.
Dublin still do not have provincial status in terms of funding and do not have a permanent member of the GAA’s management committee.
Then there’s the construction of “an optimum-sized stadium” but that could eventually be realised if the Spawell site in Templeogue is purchased.
Their performance target of winning an All-Ireland senior hurling title every five years may have appeared more realistic under Anthony Daly but now a satisfactory 2017 season would constitute retention of their Division 1A status and a Leinster final/All-Ireland quarter-final appearance.
Cuala’s advancement to an All-Ireland semi-final is certain to impact on their league campaign but then Ger Cunningham (above) had already taken a leap of faith by removing a lot of experience from his ranks. It’s the perfect storm for Dublin and the Cuala situation may see a rise in support for the calendar season in Dublin but some of the county’s difficulties has been of their own making.
Interpros on dangerous ground without Donnelly
After bad weather forced their cancellation last year, the interprovincials return this weekend, but without the support of Martin Donnelly for the first time in 16 years.
There had been indications last year the long-standing patron would like to see if the series could stand without his support. The timing of the competitions have always been an issue but now it appears player availability may be too.
Just one Cork player — Anthony Nash — is on Munster’s hurling panel and two from Kerry have agreed to be a part of the football squad — Aidan O’Mahony and Tommy Walsh. It could be argued O’Mahony is their sole representative, given Walsh withdrew from Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s group during the season.
The dearth of the green and gold on Ger O’Sullivan’s side has a lot to do with Kerry having organised a short trip to New York, which clashes with the semi-final against Ulster in Parnell Park.
Coming in the middle of the inter-county collective training moratorium, the interprovincials provide players with the opportunity to shake off some cobwebs. And they have the support of GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail who when asked about the GPA’s Super 11s nine days ago responded: “I just don’t know anything about them. I don’t have any plans on them, no. I’m looking forward to our Railway Cup.”
It’s one subject on which he and Páraic Duffy disagree but with Donnelly taking a backseat, the interpros may have lost their lifebuoy.
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