WHICH is the more appealing prospect – beating the All-Ireland champions Limerick in front of a crowd of 31,274 in the Gaelic Grounds or taking on Division 4 side Limerick before an attendance of a tenth of that in Páirc Uí Rinn?
We will admit that the question is framed in such a way as to lead you to a particular answer and, yes, Cork were massive underdogs heading up the N20 last Sunday, but the facts bear out which one is the more attractive option for players who could feature on either county panel.
Eoin Cadogan won man of the match against Limerick while Aidan Walsh put in a huge shift in attack, the man who allowed those around him to play. Douglas man Cadogan made the switch back to hurling at the end of 2017 while Kanturk’s Walsh had been with the footballers until the end of last year.
Damien Cahalane, strangely limited to just 25 minutes against Tipperary and not used against Limerick, has ploughed the hurling furrow for the past four and a half years, having been a dual player like Cadogan and Walsh during Brian Cuthbert’s first year in charge in 2014.
Unquestionably, all three – and Cadogan’s brother Alan, whose inter-county football career has encompassed just a few minutes against Donegal in 2016 – would bring qualities to the football side, but their decisions to play hurling are in keeping with the historical trend.
With 30 senior hurling All-Ireland titles and just seven in football, it’s understandable as to why so many of the dual stars have favoured the small ball. Dinny Allen is probably the most notable example of someone who enjoyed a footballing career that exceeded his hurling one, but even in that instance there were politics at play, resulting in him not featuring on the 1976-78 three-in-a-row side, after playing hurling in 1975.
While the early-to-mid 1990s saw hurling in the doldrums in Cork, there was never any question of Brian Corcoran giving his time exclusively to football – to be fair, it was still just about possible to combine the two codes. Likewise, when Seán Óg Ó hAilpín had to make a decision, it was always going to be hurling.
However, as the 2000s gave way to the 2010s, the dynamic was different as it was clear that Cork had a far greater chance of winning the football All-Ireland rather than the hurling. Walsh and Ciarán Sheehan were two talented dual underage stars – Colm O’Neill a good hurler too – but they opted for football at the time, with Cadogan trying to serve both.
Even so, with this clear signal that there was a brighter football landscape, the public perception remained weighted in favour of the hurlers and so rumours of switches back to hurling, or attempts to play both codes, always bubbled.
When, in 2013, the pendulum swung back towards hurling as Jimmy Barry-Murphy – another who opted for hurling – guided Cork to the All-Ireland final, whispers grew that Walsh and Sheehan had been involved in training games. When asked, Sheehan said, ‘I don’t know where that came from,’ he said, ‘I heard back that I was meant to have got 1-4 in one match!’
That year was a watershed, though. From 2007-13 inclusive, the Cork football team went as far as or further than the hurlers in the championship, but since then it hasn’t happened once.
When Cuthbert got the nod over John Cleary at the end of 2013, it was on the basis that dual players would be accommodated but it proved too much of an undertaking in the modern era. Cahalane and Walsh went hurling with Cadogan staying with the football team. Cahalane never wavered while Cadogan switched at the end of 2017 and Walsh reverted to football for 2017 and 2018 before the most recent move to hurling.
Given the respective status of the two teams, it’s likely that any promising youngsters, such as Jack Cahalane, brother of Damien, are going to choose hurling in the foreseeable future.
The footballing fraternity may not be overjoyed, but it is a fact of life and, with a small number of exceptions, it always has been. All Cork football can do is work with the resources available, which, let’s not forget, are still quite considerable.