James Toher insists it’s still possible to be a dual player at the top level of Gaelic games and revealed he would have done so this year if the decision wasn’t taken out of his hands.
Toher made his Championship debut for the Meath footballers in Sunday’s Leinster quarter-final win over Louth and scored five points.
It was exactly a year to the day since he’d lifted the Christy Ring Cup as Meath hurling captain at Croke Park.
The Trim man ended up lifting that Cup twice as a replay with Antrim was infamously ordered due to a scoreline error. However, his Meath hurling career stalled months later.
He initially operated as a dual player this year but fell out with hurling management after skipping the Division 2B final against Wicklow, which Meath won by 15 points, to play in a potential promotion decider against Clare in football.
Toher claimed he was dropped by ‘text message’ and accused of lacking commitment though hurling boss Martin Ennis retorted that Toher “never once trained with the hurlers instead of the footballers — a clear indication of where his priorities lay”.
Toher doesn’t wish to resurrect the row but is adamant he could have successfully competed in both Leinster championships this summer.
“Absolutely, yeah, but a lot of things happened that weren’t too savoury,” said Toher. “I don’t know how to say it without bringing it all back up again. It’s kind of buried at the moment.
“It was possible, I’ll just put it to you like that, to play the two. It would have been very hard but it was definitely possible. But it was taken out of my hands. If I get the chance I’ll do it in future, I will, 100%, play both.”
Toher would have been the only dual player competing in the MacCarthy Cup as well as for a senior county football team.
“I know that some boys try it for a year or two and say it’s too difficult, and it is quite hard, but it’s just about being cute with your training and your skills. The fitness levels will transfer across. Your skill levels do need to be kept up, you probably need to do one or two extra sessions on your own.
“I often feel I’m playing better when I’m playing both hurling and football, with my club anyway, because hurling would give you the quick hands and football would give you a lot of the physicality.
“I think they complement each other, a lot of people think they don’t but the combination seems to do something good for me.”
Toher’s Championship debut for the footballers was anything but conventional as he only learned before throw-in that he was replacing James McEntee who injured a hip in the warm up.
It caused a problem for Meath management who weren’t sure if it counted as a substitution — having already finalised their team — and they only made five alterations in the game itself as a result.
“I’d torn my quad so I was always going to be up against it to get back into the first 15,” said Toher, a midfield regular during the league. “Andy McEntee told me I was going to play some part but then he came over to me in the warm-up and said: ‘You’re playing, wing-forward’.
“I just said: ‘Great’. I got my head into it pretty quickly. You train in a lot of different positions so it’s not like it was a big deal. I’m used to playing championship games too so it wasn’t a shock to the system, it was a bit of a buzz to be honest.”
Meath fired 27 points and finished strong to set up a semi-final clash with Kildare on Saturday week.
“Kildare gave us a hiding not so long ago in the first round of the league,” said Toher. “We weren’t prepared properly. We thought we were but we went out with the wrong mindset. I’d like to think we’ve fixed that.”
The carrot of a likely Leinster final clash with Dublin awaits the winners. “Everybody wants a swipe at the Dubs, especially when you’re from Meath, everybody wants a dig at the Dubs,” said Toher. “But we just need to worry about the six inches in front of us rather than a mile down the road though.”
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