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It’s not often you’ll read a post that begins at the end, but here we are.

The End:

It’s been a long time coming, but in 2013 it seems that the death of the dual star in GAA has been confirmed.

When the dual player is mentioned, the illustrious names of Cork men such as Sean-Óg Ó Hailpín, current hurling manager Jimmy Barry Murphy, Teddy McCarthy and former Taoiseach Jack Lynch come to mind.

The Cork hurlers were dealt a huge blow in early-January 2013. Within a week of each other, Eoin Cadogan, who had cemented his position as centre-back, and rising star Damien Cahalane both confirmed that they were committing to the senior footballers for the forthcoming season. The news arrived mere weeks after it had been announced that the rebel hurler’s had lost Darren Sweetnam to Munster Rugby. They can also lament the unavailability of numerous other potential stars. Aidan Walsh and Ciarán Sheehan, two of the best young footballers in the country among them. Both regarded as extremely talented hurlers, neither play inter-county. While it’s a travesty, who can blame them?

As of today, it is simply impossible to play and train at an inter-county level in both codes. Ask any of the men who have had to commit to only one in recent years, they’d love to play both. But it’s not humanly possible to survive, have a decent working career, give time to your family and friends and excel at both codes. It’s a shame, but the breed of the dual star is on the path to extinction. Has this death been born out of carelessness from the association or has it just been the evolution of our games?

The GAA of today does not accommodate for dual players. It was difficult at the best of times, but nowadays, the pressure’s involved are immense and the sacrifice’s are huge, and that’s in terms of playing one code. With club, county and third-level commitments, the GAA calendar has become a never ending cycle.

The Dual Stars:

Cadogan’s decision to play with just the Cork footballer’s this year has brought an end to the only dual player competing in both codes at the highest level. A winner of three u21 Munster football championships and two u21 Munster hurling championships,  his club Douglas are also a dual-senior side. He has one All-Ireland senior football championship title to his name, and was on the International Rules squad in 2011. Cadogan first broke onto the football panel in 07 and was with the hurlers from 2008. Since then, he’s been embroiled in a tug-of-war between two sides desperate to bring All-Ireland glory home to Cork. Since 2010, Cadogan has appeared in 27 of the footballer’s league and championship outings, and has lined out 29 times for the hurlers. While he appeared on the senior football panel in 2007, it was in 2010 that he made his first championship start; the All-Ireland decider against Down, where Cork won their latest Sam Maguire. Last year he was forced to pull out of the Cork hurler’s qualifier against Offaly as it clashed with the footballer’s Munster final against Clare. Eoin Cadogan’s announcement to focus solely on one sport at the beginning of 2013 was inevitable and has been made by a number of players in recent years.

Take Aidan Walsh of Cork for example, the 23 year-old teammate of Cadogan is currently studying to become a P.E. and Biology teacher in DCU. He won the young footballer of the year in 2010, and was awarded the Bord Gáis Energy u21 Hurler of the year in 2011. He captained the Cork footballers to an U21 Munster title in 2011, while in the Munster hurling decider where they lost to Limerick after extra-time, he scored eight points from play.

Last year he played third-level football with CIT and was a key member of the Cork senior footballers who reached the All-Ireland semi-final. He played with his home club Kanturk, while also representing regional club Castlehaven, who lost the Munster Senior football championship to Dr. Crokes in early December. In term’s of hurling he played with CIT, Kanturk and Castlehaven. Seven different teams, a remarkable feat in this day and age. The absolute dedication and professionalism that Walsh display’s is a necessity to play GAA at the highest level nowadays. To think that a ruling has been recently implemented at third-level football to stop one of the finest ambassadors of the sport in recent year’s compete in the Sigerson or Fitzgibbon cup is hard to believe.

Dublin’s recent development structures have managed to produce a number of exciting dual talents at underage level in recent years. Cormac Costello, Conor McHugh, Eric Lowndes and Donal Gormley won the minor football championship of 2012 before losing to Tipperary in the hurling after a replay. The Dub’s had lost both deciders the year before also, with the likes of Emmet O’Conghaile, Ciarán Kilkenny, Ross Mullins, Lowndes and Costello starring on both panels.

Ciarán Kilkenny’s u-turn on his AFL contract after just eight weeks, recently arrived as a huge boost to Dublin GAA. The minor dual-star however confirmed immediately that he would focus solely on the footballers. While his quality should see him push for a place on the football side’s starting fifteen come championship, he would have immediately become a key member for Anthony Daly’s charges.

Conal Keaney was another recent Dublin dual-star, however he never played inter-county level in both codes at the same time. The Ballyboden-St. Enda’s clubman was nominated for a hurling all-star in 03. He committed to the football side from 2005 to 2010 winning four Leinster titles. In early 2011, he opted out of the football panel to join Anthony Daly’s exciting hurling revolution in the capital. He then scored 0-14 in a league game against reigning All-Ireland champions Tipperary before injury brought an end to his first season back.

In reality the Dublin and Cork senior hurling aspirations shouldn’t be far off a Liam McCarthy title. They have the history, the proper structures, the population and the backbone of a team to become serious contenders. But when key players like Cadogan, and potential stars like Kilkenny are forced to choose what sport to play, it appears the hurling side’s will continue to suffer.

The Dual County:

There are only eight counties who have won both the football and hurling All-Ireland Championships. Cork, Kerry, Tipperary and Limerick make up the Munster contingent, Galway are Connacht’s sole representatives, while Dublin, Offaly and Wexford of Leinster also share the honour.

Kerry’s inclusion in this list may be a little contentious – their one hurling success arrived in 1891, at a time where clubs represented their counties in finals, they hold 37 titles overall. Antrim have been runner-up unfortunately on two occasions in each code.

Unsurprisingly, outside of Kerry, Cork lead the way in term’s of winning senior All-Ireland titles; combined they’ve won 37, with 30 of them being the Liam McCarthy cup. Tipperary are second with 30, followed closely by Dublin who hold 29. Galway are next with 13 and Wexford have won 11, five hurling titles and six Sam Maguire’s. Limerick have 9 titles to their name, they won their two football titles in the late 19th century. While Offaly have 7, winning five during their golden days between 1971 and 1985.

Cork and Tipperary are the only sides to have won both the hurling and football championships in the same year, with the most recent being Cork’s double in 1990. The Rebel’s came close again in 99, defeating Kilkenny in the hurling before losing to Meath two weeks later in the quest for Sam. Galway also came excruciatingly close in 2001, they defeated the Royal County in the football, however had lost to Tipperary by a goal two weeks earlier.

The Future:

The fitness and conditioning within GAA has came on so much in recent years. The preparations that counties undertake for the GAA season have long surpassed amateurism. For working men and women, five training sessions during the week are not uncommon. And you can be guaranteed that NFL and championship games take up a lot more than 70 minutes of the weekend. Is it safe to consider playing one sport as time consuming?

Counties have professional consultants in nutrition, sports psychology, conditioning, recovery and other area’s on their backroom staff.

Celtic recently added All-Ireland winning coach Jim McGuinness to their backroom staff on a part-time basis, while 2003 Armagh All-Ireland winner Enda McNulty was brought on board by Leinster Rugby. The GAA are always supplying promising youngsters to Rugby, Soccer and Australian Football. And that is a true reflection of the rising standard of our games.

The question remains, will we ever see a resurrection of the dual star?

It’s hard to say.

They were always a rare breed at the top-level.

The main issue, and it’s one that’s raised it’s head in the GAA in the recent past, is the number of games, competitions and teams that the top players are expected to compete at in this amateur sport of ours.

One thing’s for sure, if survival of the dual-player is to be granted an opportunity, a complete revamp of the current fixture layout and system is pivotal.

The demand for more games was met by the GAA with the introduction of the back-door system to the championship at the start of the millennium.  In term’s of excitement, and competitiveness it’s worked. Each team is guaranteed a set amount of games before being knocked-out, and arguably we are always left with the best in the country contesting the finals, and not just the provincial winners of that year. The national leagues are seen as important preparation for the provincials, while the early-January tournaments are seen as important preparation for the league campaigns. The stock of third-level competitions has been on the rise as we have more students than ever. While club football is and always will be the cornerstone of GAA around the country.

Various system’s and proposal’s have been put forward at different times, but it’s difficult to say if any would work.

It would be a shame if we were never to see the likes of Eoin Cadogan playing both hurling and football at senior inter-county level again. But it’s the association and not the players, that have to compromise and cater for this to happen.

While the likes of the Dublin and Cork hurler’s continue to suffer the loss of talented dual-stars. Many counties who are not traditional football, or particularly hurling strongholds have been doing their utmost to promote the sport in the county. We’ve seen the likes of Roscommon, Westmeath, Laois, Meath and Antrim reaping the benefits in recent years as more and more are taking up the sports.

Isn’t that what the GAA is about? Promoting our sport, our culture, and providing everybody with the opportunity to participate in our games?

Will this lead to a future of more dual-player’s, or has the end truly arrived?

Surely the opportunity to display their talent, dedication and skill in excelling at both codes and representing their counties even further is something that the current player’s of this ilk, and those of the future, deserve?

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