Whole new ball game as GAA stars change sticks

WITH an All-Ireland SFC medal, an All-Star and the Young Footballer of the Year on his résumé, one would imagine Cork midfielder Aidan Walsh would be happy with his sporting lot in 2010.

But the 20-year-old dual star from Kanturk shows no sign stopping and will try something new and unusual this weekend, when he lines out for CIT in the hockey intervarsities in UCD.

Walsh will be joined on the squad by Cork senior hurling panellist Lorcan McLoughlin, while in the women’s squad, the GAA links continue with the inclusion of Tipperary ladies senior footballer Gillian O’Brien and Cork camogie starlet Christine O’Neill.

While O’Brien played hockey in school with Loreto Clonmel, the others were introduced to the sport as part of their course.

Having learned the game under the tutelage of college lecturer and Cork Harlequins defender John Hobbs, the quartet will now partake in their first intervarsity tournament alongside stars such Ireland defender Clíodhna Sargent, Ireland A forward Alistair Smith and Munster U21 captain Roger Gray.

While Walsh was yesterday preparing to line out for a Cork Colleges selection against the Australian international Rules side, he was also happy to talk about the newest sporting code he is juggling.

“It’s a good bit of craic,” said Walsh. “I just said I’d change things up a bit and give it a go.

“It’s all about getting your eye in; I suppose it comes naturally enough from the hurling.

“It’s a bit tricky trying to get used to only using one side of the stick, but it’s been fun trying to get it right.

McLoughlin, admitted his interest was piqued by the ability to compare tactics, training and preparation between hockey and the GAA.

“I thought it would be a good experience to play varsities, to see how hockey teams prepare for matches, and how you can relate that to GAA teams,” he said.

Courcey Rovers club woman O’Neill said her own hurling style has helped make the switch over to hockey smoother than expected: “I play hurling off my left, so hockey is a lot easier for me compared to everyone else in the class.

“I like ground hurling anyway, so that made it easier too. The hockey girls say the intervarsities is good fun, and something different. It’s nice to have a bit of variety.”

Crossover stars include Ireland’s most capped player of all time Eimear Cregan, who won an Ashbourne Cup with UL, while Gaelic Players Association chief executive Dessie Farrell lines out for Dublin hockey side St Brendan’s.

Irish international Eugene Magee, currently with KHC Dragons in Belgium, played minor hurling for Antrim, while Catholic Institute’s Naomi Carroll (Clare) and Railway Union duo Emer Dillon (Cork) and Sinead Dooley (Meath) are others who have excelled at both senior hockey and inter-county GAA.

McLoughlin stressed the positives of trying out a new sport in college.

“The drop-off rate in sport from secondary school to third level is massive – I suppose there’s a fear there of trying something new, or mixing with new students you wouldn’t have known before,” he said.

“But it’s about getting over that barrier, and giving new things a go. I think people should be more involved in college activities anyway, be it hurling, football, hockey or soccer.”

It promises to be another busy weekend for the Kanturk duo as both will line out for Duhallow in the Co U21 hurling final against Newtownshandrum on Saturday night before driving to Dublin for the varsities which run from Sunday to Tuesday next.

See tomorrow’s Irish Examiner for an intervarsities preview.

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