Two don't tango
15:41, 24 Jan 2013
Jimmy Bullard once described what it was like chasing after Theo Walcott in an England training session. To paraphrase the retired midfielder, he described how he watched the Arsenal man’s bottom get smaller and smaller as the forward punched off into the distance.
Walcott has decided to remain in his red shirt at the Emirates Stadium, having signed a new contract recently, but Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy has, like Bullard did, been watching bottoms shrinking off into the distance. Red shirts are moving on to where the success is, or apparently is.
Eoin Cadogan, Damien Cahalane, Sean Óg Ó hAilpín, John Gardiner and Darren Sweetnam are all gone — the formermost duo having defected to the footballers on a full-time basis. Ó hAilpín retired after a fine send-off season, Gardiner may continue to be surplus to requirements, while Sweetnam is never expected in a Cork shirt again after signing for Munster rugby. Veteran Niall McCarthy has also gone travelling for the year. It’s all looking a little thin on the ground right now.
So what’s wrong with hurling for Cork? Nothing is the answer but there is more right with the footballers, it seems. Both codes are led by former All-Ireland winners and Barry-Murphy no doubt understands how difficult it can be to succeed at two sports. No doubt it makes the losses of Cadogan and Cahalane no less frustrating.
Between this pair, he has lost a full-back option and a cast-iron centre-back. In other words, a possible spine of his defence. Ó hAilpín was wing-back while Gardiner was back-up for that position or midfield, where Sweetnam seemed destined to flourish for years to come. No team can take that sort of hit to such key areas.
There will be those who argue that Cadogan was too loose at centre-back and even a liability at times. Some say Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh is also too loose— and Noel McGrath has often exploited that — but, like Cadogan, he still holds a defence together. The Cork man, too, led with his physicality. In an era when playing on the edge is a catchphrase for success, the Douglas star teetered at all times. Think of when he was full-back from 2009 onwards, he quickly made people forget about the loss of Diarmuid ‘The Rock’ O’Sullivan and even bullied coming team Tipperary at the time. Eventually he was moved to centre-back in 2012 and remained a key figure.
"Looking at Eoin the last two or three years — coming to training he used to be crippled and some days he wasn't able to train," said Cork footballer Aidan Walsh. “I thought he probably would have picked hurling but I'm delighted that he picked football.” This comment is quite instructive, suggesting Cadogan has rationalised on pursuing his second love.
Cadogan’s loss may be felt the most by JBM, though Cahalane was possibly coming of age. The number three shirt was a much-passed parcel in 2012 and ended up in Stephen McDonnell’s hands for the final two games of the year against Waterford and Galway, but that Déise win that was the fifth successive game in which the number three was passed about. Cahalane had made his championship debut against Wexford in the previous round.
Barry-Murphy doesn’t concede that these losses are catastrophic for the Rebels and rightly so. He can still field a strong side, and one good enough to compete with the best, if not quite topple them. Even looking at a possible 15 for the new season, we can see that they will be competitive:
Anthony Nash/Donal Óg Cusack
Shane O’Neill, Stephen McDonnell, Brian Murphy (who should return)
Tom Kenny, Christopher Joyce, William Egan
Lorcan McLoughlin, Pa Cronin
Jamie Coughlan, Cian McCarthy, Conor Lehane
Paudie O'Sullivan, Luke O'Farrell, Patrick Horgan
No matter whether that line-up is your preferred 15 or not, or whether you’d start Cathal Naughton et al, it’s clear that they are far from weak. We don’t expect them to win any championship silverware in 2012 but we don’t expect them to take a hiding from anyone (except possibly Kilkenny, who are liable to smash anyone stupid enough to play into their hands).
Speaking of The Cats, there is that old untruth about Kilkenny once having the first and second best fifteens in Ireland. Given how many of Cork’s hurling prospects have defected to the big ball on a full-time basis (Ciaran Sheehan and Aidan Walsh, namely), you could argue that the Rebels have a microcosm of this relative situation to mid-tier counties: two XVs that could give many a good game. To stretch reality a little, one could ask who would win in a hurling match: Cork’s hurlers or Cork’s footballers.
That’s not a truly serious question; we’re simply highlighting the frustrating issue for those of a hurling persuasion down on Leeside. As for those trying to juggle the twin duties of hurling and football, it’s a losing battle. Teddy McCarthy last week said that the GAA were being greedy by having the qualifier systems and giving the dual inter-county player nowhere to go. In truth, it is time to pick a code.
There are not enough months in the year and not enough playing both to hold up the calendar for it. We regularly critique a system where 95% of GAA players’ calendars are ruled by the 5% who play inter-county, so why would a fraction of a percentage (yes interdenominational mathematics) call even more of the shots. It defies logic.
Given how different the sports have become in terms of skill and fitness requirements, it’s almost akin to a soccer season being held up because of rugby. Hurlers and footballers train in completely different manners and, physically, you can see a difference between them. It’s not a popular thing to tell players to choose but, as long as the GAA continues to stagger games out over such long spells, it simply isn’t viable. Nor is it at the lower reaches of sports.
Club players may soon be forced to choose between the two teams in true dual counties. Consider the average club player — rather than an outstanding one who will always command a place on both by default — who is operating under the every-second-week system there is in Dublin, for example. Effectively, he trains with the hurlers one week and with the footballers the next. Should he be fighting for his place on one or both, his chances with both are diluted because he is spreading himself so thinly.
Look at it from a manager’s point of view. ‘Oh where is Dan tonight? He’s with the hurlers. Right, I’ll focus with the guys that are 100-per-cent committed to football so.’ That is likely to work both ways. As it does at all levels. As a manager, you go with who you can count on.
Which is where Jimmy Barry-Murphy is at with his panel coming into 2013. A strong team, an emerging panel and, most likely, a project that will take a couple of years to harvest great yields in the September sun. It’s his job to ensure no more hurlers are lost to their second love by succeeding through adversity.
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