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Death of the dual player proving big loss to small ball

OBITUARIES are only meant to happen once in every lifetime, but there's one in the GAA that gets an annual airing, and usually around this time of year when hard decisions have to be made.

"Death of the dual player" reads the unambiguous headline over the latest sorrowful article lamenting the demise of this once-cherished icon.

And of course this definitive 'RIP' isn't strictly accurate, because the GAA production line will continue to churn out teenage prodigies who excel in both codes . . . what's different, though, is that these players are now making career-defining choices at an earlier age.

They may continue dabbling in both games for club, college or county underage, but they won't/can't serve two masters at elite inter-county level.

Managers will spell it out for them and players will have to choose - football or hurling.

On that score, this has been a good week for Dublin football and a deflating one for the Sky Blue hurlers.

Ciarán Kilkenny's return from Oz was a gloriously unexpected godsend for Dublin GAA, but the immediate beneficiaries will be his club Castleknock, Dublin football manager Jim Gavin and Dublin U21 hurling boss Shay Boland - but not his senior counterpart, Anthony Daly.

A Dublin dual star opting for big ball over small hardly constitutes a shock; for all the recent advances made by hurling in the capital, football will always be the glamour option and this is reflected not just in Kilkenny's call but in the identical earlier decisions of his ex-minor team-mates, Cormac Costello and Eric Lowndes.

It's meant to be different on Leeside, where hurling is king (in the public mindset at least), and yet in the past week both Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane have opted to focus all of their inter-county energies on the Cork footballers this year.

Conal Keaney knows plenty about the conundrum: over the past decade he has gone from being a Dublin senior hurler to a Dublin dual player (briefly in 2004) to focusing exclusively (and very successfully) on the Sky Blue footballers before returning to his small ball roots from 2011 onwards.

By Keaney's estimation, it's not impossible to play both simultaneously but it is "very, very difficult".

He expands: "You could probably get away with it, but are you doing yourself justice? At the end of the day, you are probably better off sticking with one and giving it 100 per cent."

By Keaney's estimation, only exceptional cases who also have the right circumstances away from the game (ie, where work/study/family doesn't consume all your time) can hope to juggle both.

A young, single student is the most likely candidate; but even here you must convince two inter-county managers that it's possible.

He can understand Jim Gavin's perspective - "a new manager wants to gets the best players available to him" - but argues that Dublin's dual traffic is not all a one-way street, with several gifted footballers part of the hurling set-up under Daly.

"Hurling is a game where you need to be at it all the time," the Ballyboden ace points out.

"If you don't have the hurl in your hand every single day, there comes a stage when it lets you down and your first touch won't be there."