On several occasions in the not too distant past, this corner has enviously pined that one’s own club would be operating at a similar level to the horribly titled ‘Super Clubs’. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of what affords the clubs in question the dubious honour, at a very basic level, it refers to the clubs who are serially successful, within their own domain and indeed further afield.
The names are fairly familiar to GAA devotees at this stage. Crossmaglen Rangers, Ballyhale Shamrocks, Nemo Rangers, Corofin, Ballygunnar and Kilmacud Crokes. Yes, they all have taken very different journeys to their storied histories, but that doesn’t make any of them any less noteworthy.
They say success breeds success, and in the cases of the aforementioned clubs that has certainly been the case. It can also, mind you, presents its own challenges. Great problems to have, no doubt, but now factor in a dual club who happen to operate at a high level of efficiency in both codes.
It might not happen too often but it has occurred and is actually an issue presently, but I’ll get to the present situation in a bit, it’s the reason we’re here. But beforehand, cast your mind to teams like St Vincent’s, St Finbarr’s, Slaughtneil, Ballyboden St Enda’s, Naas, Loughmore/Castleiney, St Thomas’s of Galway (Some of their lads play football with Corofin) and Kilmacud Crokes.
Back in the days of ‘Heffo’, ‘Snitchy’, Des Foley and the likes, St Vincent’s were perennially kingpins of Dublin in both codes. Lord only knows how many matches those men clocked up over the years.
It’s doubtful, though, there were many, if anybody, who had a record similar to Des Foley* who played in Railway Cup hurling and football finals on the same day. That grand old competition was once a major staple of the GAA diet before being shamefully abandonned by the Association in favour of nonesense that’s more nuisance than its worth.
Any sane, fair minded person would surely have thought it unlikely that Foley’s remarkable feat would ever be repeated. Yet, as things stand at the time of typing, that is exactly the chaotic conundrum facing Kilmacud Crokes dual player Brian Sheehy.
We could all pick holes in Crokes’ astounding levels of success – their lady footballers were beaten by Monaghan’s Donaghmoyne in their All Ireland semi final on Sunday morning – but the truth is we’d all love to be them. What club wouldn’t want a player of Shane Walsh’s ilk to join them?
I’ve no problem admitting that I often get overcome with envious upset, not just in terms of Crokes, but any of the monumentally successful clubs listed above. Angst felt is because my own nearest and dearest aren’t at a similar level. With the remarkable exception of our lady footballers. Not even a par with Ratoath who will shortly spend a third Christmas in four with the Keegan Cup.
Personally speaking, the most hurtful aspect of our own under achievement is wondering have we, as a club, the ambition and attitude to alter that? That our players are possessed of the ability to do it is beyond question.
Anyway, back to Brian Sheehy. While Kilmacud’s football team’s deeds are well chronicled and extensively analysed, even from a neutral perspective, there is a sense that the achievements of their hurlers have been under-reported and under appreciated.
After all, the Stillorgan club’s men have just completed back to back ‘domestic’ doubles and they have just qualified for both provincial finals as well. The footballers facing The Downs of Westmeath, their hurlers taking on the might of TJ Reid and Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Now, you can talk about numbers and facilities and financials all you want, but at the end of the day any team can only use 20 players on a given day. If Club A’s players are at a different level to Club B’s, the only ones who can amend that are the latter.
Either by throwing the net a bit wider in terms recruitment, as several Dublin clubs have over the years, or by upskilling those whom you have already and putting in place the structures to ensure that process is an ongoing one. Which is presumably what the clubs who have featured in this piece have done.
Though here’s an interesting aside, St Vincent’s – who in fairness to them showed everybody else the way – haven’t won a Dublin hurling championship since 1994 and Crokes hadn’t won one for an elongated period of time either prior to last season.
Somewhat remarkably, Brian Sheehy is currently the only dual player lining out in the purple and gold. He lined out at corner back for the hurlers but still drove forward and flashed over a point in their victory over St Mullin’s of Carlow. Though it was their recognised sharpshooter Oisin O’Rorke who did most of the heavy lifting, dropping one short of a delightful dozen points for himself.
However, one can’t help feeling those who have the backing of The Beacon have almost become victims of their own success. Put it this way, you’d hope whatever bright spark that didn’t cop the possibility for complications hasn’t a performance review coming up anytime soon!
Kilmacud’s football boss Robbie Brennan said “Obviously it’s a great achievement for the club and for Brian himself. He’s an important part of both groups and it’s something that we’ll just have to manage as best we can for the best interests of all concerned”.
At this point, I must categorically state that Brennan was in no way making an issue out of the matter, this writer was simply keen to investigate further into what’s possibly a unique situation. In mens competitions anyway. I do know there have been some horrendous situations regarding the same thing between Camogie and Ladies Football.
It reminds me of a story once imparted in this direction regarding how two different members of the clergy advised a person who consulted both for opinions on a subject. To paraphrase the better answer of the two, we should be doing everything we can to encourage and accommodate dual players, not making life even more complicated and awkward for them.
There’s a school of thought which infers the dual player is a species of the past, but to me that’s a simplistic, defeatist attitude. To invoke a few local examples, Wolfe Tones’ hurlers simply couldn’t function without those who play football with Rathkenny and Castletown, ditto Kiltale (Moynalvey and Summerhill), Kilmessan (Dunsany), Kilskyre (Ballinlough)**, Kildalkey (Ballivor) and Ratoath (Kilbride and Curraha). That’s without mentioning dual clubs who manage to function successfully as dual entities. Like my own crew and Trim and Navan O’Mahony’s and Na Fianna and Dunderry, and there are more.
Now, it could and most likely will be said in some quarters ‘They’re a big club, they have the numbers to cope without Sheehy’ but that to me misses the point here entirely. That is, akin to the Meath-Louth controversy of 2010, kicking the can down the road to the players and thus a betrayal of players everywhere.
Players who wish to represent their club(s) and/or county at different disciplines should be applauded, accommodated and encouraged, not penalised. For all the talk of ‘No Referee, No Game’ stuff, if it wasn’t for the players, referees or administrators wouldn’t be needed. The players are the ones who matter most. Some people need to realise that.
* If anyone knows of someone other than Des Foley to have achieved same, please advise in the comments.
** Similarly, if there are hurlers from clubs other than Ballinlough who line out with Kilskyre, also drop me a line!