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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.