WHEN the Waterford minor football management team walked out a couple of weeks back, detailing a crib with an agreed training schedule for dual players in the county not being followed, a few items of interest jumped out.
First, it was stark certainly to see the kind of commitment being asked of kids of maybe 16 years of age through the winter, giving a couple of nights a week to hurling and one to football with the county and that’s presumably on top of schools and club GAA and any other sports or activities.
It was also a little insight into the intricacies that crop up when trying to do both hurling and football properly, how very very difficult it is to do so effectively and basically, a reminder of the kind of issues that Cork has to think through in any efforts to establish itself as one of the elite in both codes right now.
This isn’t another moan about the death of the intercounty dual player by the way (we’re way past that) even if there was something disheartening for Cork football in never quite getting to see the best of Aidan Walsh in his comeback with Ronan McCarthy’s side before he fell in with the hurlers again and equally dispiriting in seeing Damien Cahalane as a standout — he can kick the ball so naturally — for Castlehaven in club championship yet knowing we wouldn’t see it repeating in red.
It’s more about what’s being missed in the day to day here and whether Cork has the ability to divide its talent in half and expect to truly compete.
There are intercounty footballers and hurlers at all levels with Cork who are togging out consistently in the other code as well with their clubs and it’d be interesting to have a look for example on the difference in contact and game time for a footballer in Cork compared to a footballer in say, Kerry, who might not have quite the same level of distraction.
Even Kerry county players who go back to their clubs at all ages after being knocked out of the All-Ireland level are still being exposed to fairly high levels of coaching, training and regular games, they’re still improving by competition and simple contact with the ball.
There are Cork players who might go into a run of hurling training and games with their clubs who just don’t follow the same sort of learning curve and it’s not a huge leap to take that gap in development in one year, multiply it over the course of a career of seasons and ponder if it’s a factor in what we often refer to as a natural difference in talent.
It follows from schools and clubs as well.
Kerry have two wonderful schools teams this year in the Corn Uí Mhuiri – St Brendan’s and Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne — backboned by some of their minors teams who’ve won All-Irelands for fun over the past few years.
These players continue to have experience training and playing/winning high-level games against other top schools and counties over a number of years and imagine the advantage for a promising player of 17/18 to build the skill levels and knowledge base over a couple of years of playing nothing but elite Gaelic football compared to a potential player here who might be juggling that 50/50 with trying to become a hurler as well.
A young player from Dingle or Killarney playing with the school and the county minors and who has nothing other than Kerry footballer in his head compared to a young player from Bandon or Newcestown or the city who’s playing football with the school but also hurling with the school and maybe from a hurling club as well and who perhaps would be more likely to devote their efforts to becoming a hurler than a footballer.
Even if the inclination is similar for the big ball, at a time when skill levels and first touch/sharpness and game awareness are onto another level in young players, that’s still a lot of time to make up.
Footballers in Ulster or say Mayo or Kildare generally will have the same advantage of time being given to becoming better footballers along with all the traditions that come also from being a football county.
There are nuances to this that drift towards conspiracy type theories at times and yet it’s hard to ignore the idea that large parts of Cork GAA at all levels (from people working inside the game to management to supporters to players) have the perception of Cork as a hurling county with football as an afterthought.
Not when you see huge hordes of fans arrive after the Cork football opener of a double-header at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Or when county players and management wonder openly and privately if they receive the same focus and encouragement to play football for Cork as hurlers do.
Dublin have managed little pockets and emergences of dual players reasonably successfully – Con O’Callaghan for example with Cuala and Dublin – and yet there’s little doubt what’s king or who will ultimately have access to the top players.
It impacts the club scene as well and it’s easy to recall being at a Cork clubs meeting a few years back where a reasonable argument was made for a schedule of games where a senior club could have a comprehensive county league campaign finished by the end of June until someone from Newcestown pointed out just how more or less impossible that would be practically for a dual club playing top division football and top division hurling.
There are few enough clubs in Cork who’ve managed that balance well over any length of time (apart from the odd story where momentum builds a run through maybe one autumn) and generally it’s been unusual for any club to make a consistent go of reaching county finals or winning titles with hurling and football at the same time.
In fact it’s generally the same traditional winners, where football has Nemo and Castlehaven and someone else from West Cork maybe while hurling has Imokilly and the Glen, Midleton and Sars.
Even at U21 and premier minor level you look at the same names with very few if any clubs (Douglas are generally there or thereabouts) able to sustain the development of football and hurling teams who can compete and win trophies at the same time.
Cork will, and should, try to make themselves the best they can in hurling and football, but it’s becoming more difficult.