Modern-day intensity means game is up for dual players

Aidan Walsh: Put inter-county football career on hold this week

Aidan Walsh isn’t the first Cork player to make a big decision about his future. A few years back one of his dual predecessors in red and white also had to make a call.

“I couldn’t see myself going forward, and it was the hardest thing I had to do in my career, telling Billy Morgan that I’d have to concentrate on hurling,” said that player of opting for hurling.

“I knew what football meant to Billy but I felt drained, that I was going nowhere and that I wasn’t playing well for the footballers anyway.

“The hurlers weren’t going any better that time anyway, but I felt I’d had enough of the negativity in football.”

True, Jimmy Barry-Murphy was talking about a time when players didn’t routinely train through from October or November, nor did they have to cope with rash of back door games, but the lesson holds for 2014. It can’t be done and you’re foolish to even try: variations on that theme.

Walsh put his inter-county football career on hold this week, an apparently astonishing decision for a player who collected two All-Star awards for Gaelic football in the last few years. While there’s a wider lesson here for the GAA, for the last few days the repercussions were localised.

The experiment deemed successful in June and July was a lost cause in August, with Walsh’s tired displays in Croke Park in bold print in the book of evidence. The Kanturk man had learned a lesson picked up by another dual Cork player, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, a decade and a half earlier.

In his autobiography Ó Ailpín pointed out the dual player falls in with his team for the last couple of training sessions before a championship match, when his teammates have their high-tempo, top speed drills and game situations well practiced. Before a game that intensity is necessarily dialled down, so the dual player misses that top level preparation with both squads, turn and turn about. Given that kick-out strategies and defensive patterns have by definition moved on since then, Walsh and his dual colleagues, Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane, were always on the back foot in terms of preparation.

Taken in its October context, however, Walsh’s decision was a welcome boost for a Cork hurling camp which needed a shot of adrenaline ahead of 2015.

A smoothly evolving season came to a shuddering halt in a heavy defeat against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final, and while Barry-Murphy’s status on Leeside insulates him from criticism, the uncertainty about the manager’s intentions for 2015 sent ripples of fear through the Cork GAA community.

Barry-Murphy’s decision to stay on was counterbalanced by Kieran Kingston’s departure as coach. Despite the gloom about the county’s demolition at the hands of Tipperary, Cork’s dismissal of Waterford, Clare and Limerick was testimony to Kingston’s ability to prepare the team, and, like every other county, Cork do not have a large cohort of intercounty-quality coaches to replace the Tracton man (and that cohort was reduced by one on Leeside with the departure of Ger Cunningham to manage Dublin).

Replacing Kingston may also influence the remaining dual players’ decisions. The departing coach has strong links to Douglas, Eoin and Alan Cadogan’s club, and there are plenty of observers in Cork who see Kingston’s departure as weakening Cadogan senior’s ties to the hurling team.

Damien Cahalane carries a football surname but grew up in Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s club, St Finbarr’s. Every theory about the those players’ future plans — football or hurling? — has some supporting evidence

Just to complicate matters, however, in yesterday’s paper Cork football manager Brian Cuthbert pointed to Alan Cadogan’s football skills and indicated that he would be discussing the possibility of playing football in 2015 with the Douglas youngster. Unlikely on the face of it, given Cadogan junior’s stellar year on the hurling field, but the Cork football camp could do with a good news story given Walsh’s departure. The level of vitriol and abuse directed Cuthbert’s way within Cork since the defeat by Kerry in the Munster final doesn’t appear to take into consideration the All-Ireland title later claimed by the Kingdom, nor Cork’s display against a strong Mayo side in Croke Park, though the acquisition of Pat Flanagan as a strength and conditioning coach would be welcomed in any other county.

Broadening the discussion, there are repercussions here for the GAA as a whole, though people may not wish to acknowledge that.

The GAA is not an organisation which exists solely to promote Gaelic football, contrary to the views of some observers; its stated objective is to make the full spectrum of its games available to as many people as possible.

The dilemma faced by Walsh, Cadogan and Cahalane — and the Collinses in Clare -points up the inherent problem for clubs and counties which choose to fulfil the purpose for which the GAA was established in the first place: that the GAA’s structures work against that purpose, given the number of games and fixture scheduling, and managers’ requirements to have players at training sessions.

Pleas for common sense, or the recognition of the huge preparation needed to compete at the elite level, or the lack of space on the calendar, miss the point entirely. The GAA has a decision to make about the compatibility of offering Gaelic football and hurling as playing choices, because based on the experience of the Cork and Clare players in the 2014 intercounty season, playing both is impossible, and counties which are naive enough to take the GAA’s objective seriously are not fooling themselves, but being fooled by that objective, which is unachievable.

The implications require the kind of thinking few organisations like to engage in, because it goes to the heart of what the organisation believes about itself: that it is not offering its members the chance to play hurling and football by virtue of its own structures.

Surely an organisation which is effectively preventing itself from achieving its own objectives has to take some time to work out how that’s happening.


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