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Damien Cahalane in action against Sean Denvir, Galway, in 2013. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
Damien Cahalane in action against Sean Denvir, Galway, in 2013. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Dual players are part of the fabric of Cork GAA

EOIN CADOGAN’S decision to swap football for hurling for the coming year is the latest example of a Cork player being in a position to be able to represent the county in code or the other.

A year ago, Aidan Walsh made the opposite journey after two years of being hurling-only (barring an appearance with the footballers in the 2016 qualifier loss to Donegal, after the hurlers’ championship exit), while in 2015, Damien Cahalane opted to focus on the small ball.

Aidan Walsh celebrates after the 2010 All-Ireland. Picture: Brian Lawless/SPORTSFILE
Aidan Walsh celebrates after the 2010 All-Ireland. Picture: Brian Lawless/SPORTSFILE

Going all the way back to Billy Mackessy, who won an All-Ireland football medal in 1903 and a hurling title in 2011 (he played football for Lees, hurling for Blackrock), dual stars have been a central part of the GAA fabric on Leeside.

Jack Lynch, of course, won six All-Ireland medals in a row as the 1945 football success came in the only year from 1941-46 where the hurlers weren’t successful (Derry Beckett was on the ’45 team as well, having won a hurling medal in ’42), while Ray Cummins, Denis Coughlan and Brian Murphy were all dual medallists in the 1970s before Teddy McCarthy’s unique achievement of 1990.

Ray Cummins, supported by JBM, takes on the Dubs in 1974.
Ray Cummins, supported by JBM, takes on the Dubs in 1974.

All of those were of course able to combine playing hurling and football at the same time, but the demands placed on modern intercounty players means that it’s simply not possible anymore. No manager is going to compromise his and his team’s chances of success in such a way – a slightly inferior player who is there 100 percent of the time is a better asset than a superior one who has his commitments split down the middle.

Historically, when players had to make a choice, it seemed that the old, unfair, adage that “football is a game for bad hurlers” rang true, with Dinny Allen a notable exception in the 1970s and 80s in that he was a player who had played hurling for Cork — winning a Munster title in 1975 — but thereafter was exclusively football. Even then, though, politics played a large part in that and the 1989 All-Ireland football-winning captain never lost his passion for the ‘other’ code, guiding Nemo Rangers to the city junior A title this year.

Nemo's Dinny Allen shoots for goal against St Micheal's in 1978.
Nemo's Dinny Allen shoots for goal against St Micheal's in 1978.

Given that there have been so many famous and successful dual players, it’s easy to forget just how many, even in the relatively recent past, have represented Cork in the senior championship in both codes.

Teddy McCarthy in action against Meath's Gerry McEntee as John O'Driscoll (10) and Martin O'Connell (7) await the dropping ball. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Teddy McCarthy in action against Meath's Gerry McEntee as John O'Driscoll (10) and Martin O'Connell (7) await the dropping ball. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

In 1986 – the year Teddy Mac made his first hurling championship start in the All-Ireland final against Galway – the Cork football team played two games, a win over Clare and a defeat to Kerry (the last for five years, incidentally). At corner-forward in both those games was Tomás Mulcahy of St Nicholas – and, more famously, Glen Rovers – while one of the subs used in the Munster final was Na Piarsaigh’s Tony O’Sullivan, who had also played football in 1985.

Another dual player on that ’86 team was Denis Walsh, who was part of the football panel for the 1990 final against Meath but, due to archaic rules on the number of medals awarded, missed out on the same achievement as Teddy Mac.

Brian Corcoran was, of course, the most notable dual player of the early 1990s – Cork did have a John O’Driscoll playing hurling (Delanys) and football (Béal Áthan Ghaorthaidh) – while Seán Óg Ó hAilpín came to prominence later on, with both winning hurling All-Ireland medals but playing in teams which lost football deciders in 1993 and ’99 respectively.

Delanys' John O'Driscoll gathers the ball against Carrigtwohill in 2002.  Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Delanys' John O'Driscoll gathers the ball against Carrigtwohill in 2002.  Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The early-to-mid-2000s were when Cork hurling got back on top while football was in decline, and many were left to wonder how different things would be if some of the players talented enough in both had chosen football.

Some did attempt to divide their time: Timmy McCarthy had impressed at minor and U21 football level and was included in the squad for the 2000 Munster football semi-final against Kerry but Cork lost and, as this was the last year before the back door, there was no further chance to experiment.

Diarmuid O'Sullivan is tackled by Tipperary's Damien Byrne. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Diarmuid O'Sullivan is tackled by Tipperary's Damien Byrne. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The following year, 2001, Diarmuid O’Sullivan played junior football for Cork and did so well that Larry Tompkins added him to the senior panel. His achievement of playing championship hurling and football on the same day, as he did when Cork drew the Munster football final with Tipperary and then lost to Galway in the All-Ireland hurling qualifiers, won’t ever again be matched, one would imagine.

O’Sullivan focused just on hurling after that but in 2003 another colleague, Tom Kenny, tried to balance the commitments. Unfortunately for him, the 0-16 to 0-6 Munster SFC loss to Limerick in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was his only championship outing in football.

Others on that hurling team which won the 2004 and ’05 All-Irelands had played U21 football for Cork, such as John Gardiner and Ronan Curran, while Setanta Ó hAilpín had also done so before leaving for Australia.

Setanta Ó hAilpín looks for his target against O'Donovan Rossa's Paddy Nealon in 2003. Picture: Gavin Browne
Setanta Ó hAilpín looks for his target against O'Donovan Rossa's Paddy Nealon in 2003. Picture: Gavin Browne

So it was that, in the winter of 2004/05, the idea of a fundraising football match between the Cork hurlers and the Cork footballers was mooted, and pencilled in for January 2005.

While the game had generated interest among the GAA fraternity in what was a quiet time of the year, it ultimately didn’t come to pass. Why so? Well, details were sketchy at the time, weather perhaps, and are nigh-on impossible to find now.

Perhaps, given that football was at a low ebb, it was for the best that the Cork fans didn’t get to see what they might have been missing out on.

Former Cork hurling boss John Allen had a stormer against the Dubs in the drawn 1983 All-Ireland semi-final. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Former Cork hurling boss John Allen had a stormer against the Dubs in the drawn 1983 All-Ireland semi-final. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE