On a slack weekend on the hurling fields my attention was drawn to an issue that is likely to become more prominent in Tipperary in future years. County minor hurling manager, William Maher, had suggested that the dual player issue was a hindrance this year while his football counterpart, Charlie McGeever, disagreed and went on to suggest that Tipperary is now a dual county.
We had become accustomed to harmonious relations between the minor managements in recent years so this was something of a new development. In a sense this friction was inevitable given the large overlap between the minor hurling and football panels and it does hint at a larger debate that’s likely to occupy us in the future.
Is Tipperary a dual county as McGeever suggests? Even posing the question, I suspect, will horrify some hurling diehards. Football has undeniably made significant progress in recent years, underlined by that memorable All Ireland minor win, but the dual county claim seems a bit fanciful.
I suppose in one sense it all depends on your definition of ‘dual county’. If you mean it literally that we play both games then fair enough, though by that simplistic definition Kilkenny might also be considered a dual county. They do play football on the banks of the Nore – and not nearly enough of it some of us feel!
However, the term ‘dual county’ surely means something more substantial entirely. In the truer sense of the term only a small handful of counties are truly dual and Tipperary is hardly one of them. Nobody would deny that Cork is a dual county, as is Galway and maybe Offaly and you could make a case for a few others, even Dublin now that the hurlers have challenged the football dominance. But Tipperary?
In most counties one sport is pre-eminent and the other has to live in its shadow. Usually that means that football is number one and hurling a second choice. Tipperary is one of a handful of counties where the roles are reversed.
By any measure Tipperary is first and foremost a hurling county. It’s an inherited tradition. Most clubs in this county have hurling as their number one sport; the public interest is dominated by hurling as reflected in match attendances so that the County Board’s finances are heavily reliant on hurling. In fact football in Tipperary is heavily subsidised by hurling money which is an aspect that some are beginning to question.
Folks, it’s an unequal world. Football is secondary in Tipperary and its promoters need to accept and work within those parameters instead of making lavish claims of parity.
On the issue of the dual player William Maher is right. When you divide your loyalties between two sports you lessen your performance in both. So many adult players have recognised that fact so that it shouldn’t even need to be stated at this stage.
Hurling is a very particular case in this regard because of the nature of the skills involved. You could take up football as a teenager and be successful at it but hurling is much more demanding and requires constant attachment to the stick.
Let me tell you a little story which illustrates the point. A few years back I was supervising exams in Templemore. Exam attendants who sit outside the door of the exam centre usually have earphones and while away the long boring hours by listening to music or reading books. On this occasion I noticed the attendant at an adjacent centre who seemed to sit all day with a hurley in one hand and a ‘sliotar’ in the other constantly tip-tapping the ball from stick to hand. On enquiring I was told his name was John McGrath, Noel’s brother.
In Loughmore they take their hurleys to bed. So when you see the silky skills of a McGrath in action realise that it comes from that endless attachment to the hurley. Of course as a teenager John McGrath plays excellent football too but ultimately which code will he opt for if given the choice as an adult? That’s because we live in a hurling county where the ‘caman’ is king.
Anyway expect this debate to gather steam in future years as the two codes compete for available talent.
In Kilkenny there’s never a dilemma between hurling and football. It’s very mono-cultural when it comes to the ‘caman’ and that obsession means that players like Shefflin are very reluctant to retire. If King Henry has been reading the papers in the past week he’ll have got very mixed signals, some urging a last throw of the dice, others saying it’s time to go.
One angle I can’t quite fathom is this insistence that he can’t retire now because of what happened in the Cork game. It’s as if a great career would somehow be overshadowed by a single game. Of course it would be a slightly untidy ending to a hurling life but ultimately it would surely serve as a mere footnote beside all the glory years. Very few players retire at the top, must go after a defeat, but their legacy is ultimately assessed in the round taking in all the highs and lows.
In Tipperary we had Declan Fanning and Declan Ryan going out at the top but most others bow out after a defeat yet they’re not remembered for their last game. It will be the same if Shefflin decides to go now.
We’ve had no retirements in Tipperary yet though Cummins has given a strong hint during his record equalling ‘poc-fada’ win at the weekend. Players are reluctant to retire because hurling is the prestige game in Tipperary yet it will be unfortunate if some are forced out like John Gardner, against their wishes. Knowing when to go is important too.
Finally after last weekend’s slackness there’s a glut of hurling action this coming weekend. It all starts with that relegation rematch between Boherlahan and Golden on Friday evening at Holycross when we’ll surely have a verdict. Then the West final takes place on Saturday where Eire Og try to thwart Clonoulty’s bid for a record eight divisionals in a row and on Sunday the Mid decider should be a dinger between Drom and Loughmore.
On the inter-county scene Cork and Dublin go head to head. Tradition says a Cork win; this year’s form favours Dublin. The bookies rate it evens and as ever that’s a pretty accurate read. Form and fortune on the day to decide it.
P.S. Dear oh dear! I need a proof reader. Last week I got my ‘coups’ crossed attributing a coup d’état to Cork instead of a coup de grace – though the rebels are not beyond revolting – no pun intended.