IT’S NO SECRET that dual players at inter-county level are more so associated with women’s Gaelic games.

Orla O’Dwyer (centre) is one of the country’s most high-profile dual players.

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

That concept seems to be a thing of the past at the top level in the men’s game, though it was once commonplace for players to play both football and hurling for their county.

Cork great Teddy McCarthy made history by winning an individual All-Ireland double in 1990, while Seán Óg Ó hAilpín so very nearly followed in his footsteps nine years later. Galway’s Alan Kerins is another prime example, featuring in both deciders in 2001, winning the football but losing the hurling. Offaly’s Liam Currams, Dublin’s Des Foley, and plenty of others from Cork; the list goes on as you take a trip down memory lane.

In recent years, many have tried combining both at the top level but the big decision is ultimately necessary.

Just look at Dublin football star Con O’Callaghan, a fine hurler with Cuala who’d surely be welcomed to the county set-up with open arms. Chrissy McKaigue, who has just played football with Derry of late. Galway’s Daithi Burke, who concentrates solely on small ball at inter-county level. And that’s but a few examples.

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Ever-growing demands and logistical roadblocks seem to make it virtually impossible in the men’s game. The inter-county dual player is very much a dying, if not dead, breed. But things are very different when we look at ladies football and camogie. 

While Cork greats Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley — who amassed a remarkable 36 All-Ireland medals between them — are among the most renowned at inter-county level through the years, there are plenty of high profile ones still in the game at the minute.

They’re highlighted each and every year — but often through a fixture clash controversy rather than through sheer praise for those who play two codes at the highest level.

Just look at 2020 alone where Cork’s dual dilemmas hit the headlines week in, week out. Five players — Hannah Looney and Libby Coppinger are two of the big names who spoke out most — were at the centre of numerous storms with strike action threatened at one point, but thankfully, it never came to that.

Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley in 2015.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Same-day clashes were avoided in the end, though many questions were raised after the controversial All-Ireland ladies football semi-final between the Rebels and Galway. It all started long before the late venue change. Ultimately, it stemmed from the failure of the LGFA and Camogie Association to co-ordinate their fixtures — a constant problem over the past few years.

Ask any player, they want to play both. There are numerous challenges, demands and roadblocks year in, year out, but it’s worth it.

Disappointing decisions have come out of the LGFA and Camogie Association’s respective Congresses over the past few months, with motions to facilitate and recognise dual players rejected at both. Both Associations have expressed their support clearly since, however.

“We do support the dual player, but we can’t design an entire fixtures programme around a player,” as Camogie Associaition Ard Stiúrthóir Sinéad McNulty told The42 in an interesting interview during the summer.

Speaking to The42 in the lead-up to December’s All-Ireland football final, Coppinger discussed those incidents in particular, and how mentally difficult it is to bounce between both at times.

She went on to explain how balancing the two sports is all she’s ever known.

“I grew up playing both. When I got to play with Cork, it was great to get to play both up there because if you commit to one playing inter-county, the other one doesn’t get seen to much at club level. So I’ve been delighted to be able to play both and represent Cork with both.

Libby Coppinger after the 2020 All-Ireland football final.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It has been crazy sometimes but for me anyway, it’s gotten… not necessarily easier but management and everything have been more helpful for me in the last couple of years, just taking decisions out of my hands. Sure I’d love to be out every night of the week training… most of the time anyway! I hate to say no to sitting out or anything like that when you’re not necessarily injured.

“Even the last two or three years, Ephie [Fitzgerald] and Paudie [Murray] have worked together great. Our backroom team as well, our two strength and conditioning coaches will always make the call and then we don’t have to decide, they’re just it taking out of our hands and that’s really helped me manage the workload and everything like that.”

Having done so in the past on several occasions, Tipperary ace Orla O’Dwyer — who also stars for Brisbane Lions in the AFLW — echoed Coppinger’s words, saying she loves both and wants to play both despite the noise and potential dual clashes.

“I always say that I’m very lucky in Tipperary that they’re allowed to have dual players, that the camogie and football work well with that, that there is no real shame about it,” she said, with Aishling Moloney and Roisin Howard among the other Premier stars to balance both of late.

“But I know it has been a big topic in the last couple of years, even with a lot clashes. It’s very unfair on some of the girls, but I suppose it just comes down to fixtures and how that will work.

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“I know there’s lots of games that need to be played and they have to get them played by certain dates. With this year especially [2020] with everything that was going on, we didn’t even know if there would be a season, it’s so hard to know and it was probably very hard to justify with fixtures and stuff. But I think down the line that there should be an easier kind of way to finalise fixtures and just have it prepared in advance. It’s hard to know.

“I just always say I’m grateful and I’m privileged to be able to play the both and continue and I hope that, with the rest of the girls that they do get the chance to continue to play dual for their county.”

There are many other inter-county dual players dotted around the country, who often go under the radar a little more. There’s a cohort in Limerick, while others like Niamh O’Dea (Clare) and Megan Thynne (Meath) also spring to mind.

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— Emma Duffy (@emmaduffy_) November 10, 2020

“It’s a great time to be a dual star,” the latter — a permanent fixture for the Royals in both codes over the past few years — said last year, insisting the concept must be celebrated.

“I’m happy to be playing games. I’m not complaining they’re on the same weekend. In future, there’s loads of dual players out there that would like to play both, and hopefully it’ll improve further.”

There’s “no secrets,” she noted on the balancing act, but the general question has arisen of late if it is feasible to continue playing both.

For a period, Tipperary and Cahir star Howard didn’t think it was. In college at University of Limerick [UL], she played both and enjoyed incredible Ashbourne and O’Connor Cup success.

As a result, inter-county commitments were impacted and she chose to focus on football for a period.

Howard (11) after UL’s 2020 Ashbourne Cup success.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I just found it very hard going into the two inter-county set ups straight away. I suffered a lot of niggly injuries. It just kind of prevented me from kind of getting to a decent stage of performing at my best at the important times of the year.

“So that’s why I decided to step back from playing both at inter-county level. At the same time, when I look back I was younger then and I probably wasn’t looking after my body as well as what I do now. That definitely has a massive impact; just eating wise and sleeping better and things like that.”

But she’s currently back in full swing with both, and wouldn’t change a thing.

For now, anyway. Like pretty much everyone else. That’s the general consensus.

“I do enjoy playing both and it’s definitely something that I want to keep continuing to do,” she concludes, making it a general consensus across the board. “They’re two very different set ups, which is very enjoyable as well.

“It’s an honour to represent your county at one sport, never mind two. I really do enjoy it.”

It’s just a question of will — or, can — it continue…

Originally published at 07.30

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