HISTORICALLY Cork GAA is extremely proud of its status as arguably the most successful dual county in the country, well in terms of All-Irelands won anyway.
And while that remains the case, we are unlikely to ever see a player playing both codes at senior level at the same time ever again.
Teddy McCarthy and Denis Walsh famously did it back in the year of the double in 1990, while Seán Óg Ó hAilpín also played in both All-Ireland finals in 1999, winning the hurling and coming up just short in the football. Others, such as Brian Corcoran starred for both simultaneously, but the last players to really give it a go were the recently retired Eoin Cadogan, Damien Cahalane, and Aidan Walsh.
The managers of the time, Brian Cuthbert and Jimmy Barry-Murphy, have to be commended for facilitating this; it ultimately was not a success. It didn’t really work, with Cadogan focusing on football and Cahalane and Walsh solely on hurling in 2015. The days of the dual inter-county player appeared to be over.
That’s still the case, meaning that a number of talented dual players will soon have to make to a decision: big ball or small ball?
At least Jack Cahalane does not have to worry just yet, as he still has one more year of playing at U20 level and should be a key player in both Donal O’Mahony and Bobbie O’Dwyer’s teams.
Kanturk’s Colin Walsh is another, although he has two years to make the call. He was a key member of Cork’s Munster U20 football winning team this year, and while he wasn’t involved in the hurling triumph this year, his hat-trick against Fr O’Neill’s in the SAHC final will have put him in the frame for U20 duty.
However, anyone finished with the U20 grade come has a decision to make, with the most high profile of these being St Finbarr’s Brian Hayes.
Hayes himself admitted, back in August of this year, that at some stage he would have to choose: “Realistically, it is not possible with the way the game has gone now. If the opportunity comes, I’ll hopefully have to make a decision. And genuinely, I’d have a 50/50 split between them.
“It’s been like that since I was 15 or 16. I wouldn’t really have a preference.”
There is no white smoke as to which way Hayes is going to go yet, although it was extremely noteworthy that Hayes was not included in the recently revealed list of new players joining the Cork hurling panel.
St Finbarr’s Ethan Twomey, Ballygiblin’s Darragh Flynn, Castlemartyr’s Ciarán Joyce and Midleton pair Tommy O’Connell and Sam Quirke were revealed as the newcomers.
That does not necessarily mean that we can assume that Hayes is going the big ball route yet either. Basically, let’s wait and see.
Either way, Hayes would be a huge addition. He would add athleticism, height and power to both squads, and in areas seriously lacking such traits too. The Cork footballers used to produce buckets of tall, physical midfielders, but new bainisteoir Keith Ricken would appear to be lacking in options there right now to partner captain Ian Maguire, with the O’Hanlon brothers from Kilshannig having injury issues and the Hartnett brothers still finding their feet at senior level.
Hayes would certainly be a great option for Ricken, and particularly so given that he is already a team-mate of Maguire’s at club level and that he was captain when winning the U20 Munster championship in the summer.
You would have thought that Hayes would have been a perfect option for the hurlers too, as they would appear to be crying out ball-winning wing-forwards.
Of course, the fact that Hayes’ father, Paddy, is a former All-Ireland football winner might influence the decision too, although the water gets muddied somewhat when you consider that his uncle is Ger Cunningham.
Obviously, it is not an easy decision for a young player to make, to basically have to give up a sport he clearly loves.
However, if Hayes is to learn one lesson from recent Cork dual star Aidan Walsh, then that lesson is probably to make a decision and stick to it, as Walsh would probably admit that chopping back and forth between the two panels did not help his career.