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GAA walks on Aer!

TWO Dubs at different ends of the sporting spectrum. Two Dubs who have summed up the unique allure of Gaelic games.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, following his appointment as Europe's Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley harked back to his own formative days in Gaelic football and how it instilled in him the importance of team.

Given the international platform, this was marketing manna from heaven for the GAA. But it wasn't the first such boost that Croke Park has received in 2013.

Ciarán Kilkenny had already provided that last week, when explaining his rationale for turning his back on a fledgling Aussie Rules career to re-embrace the amateur world of Dublin GAA.

"As much as I enjoyed the lifestyle of a professional Aussie Rules player and relished the challenge of achieving in a different code, I realised that it would never matter as much to me as the sense of community and joy I get from togging out and playing alongside the people with whom I grew up and live," Kilkenny wrote, encapsulating the central theme of a 465-word statement that has now gained the ringing endorsement of GAA president Liam O'Neill.

"The GAA gives a community involvement, and a sense of team, and it was very generous of Paul (McGinley) to acknowledge that," O'Neill said. "It's the second big boost we've got in the last couple of weeks, with Ciarán Kilkenny's wonderful, unsolicited and articulate reasoning of why it's good to be a GAA person.

"None of us could do that. No one could have said that except the person who was in the position he was in, and he had obviously given it some thought. He knew what it meant to him and I thought he articulated it very well, and Paul McGinley probably did the same.

"We're delighted his experience was so positive, but that's something we don't often get recognition for -- the development of people."

O'Neill was speaking at yesterday's launch of the Aer Lingus International Hurling Festival, which will see 16 teams from all over the globe descend on Galway from September 18-21 as part of 'The Gathering' tourism initiative.

The Laois man was effusive in his praise of Kilkenny who, at 19, has now instigated his own personal 'gathering' by returning to his GAA roots after the briefest of sojourns Down Under.

"It shows the calibre of people who we have playing the games at the moment. I've always said this, and people just say it's clichéd stuff but it's not actually - I think that we have the most impressive group of players playing Gaelic games that we ever had," the president proclaimed.

"They're well educated, they're articulate, they're playing it because it's their choice. And inter-county football now is a choice. Not every player makes it, and not every player can succeed at it.

"You need to be a fantastic player. You need skill. You need character - I think above all, possibly, character is the defining thing and this young man exemplified that," he added.

"I said last week that we said goodbye to him (Kilkenny) with a lump in our throats because we knew we were losing a fantastic player, and it's an enormous solace to us now - and joy - that he has decided to rejoin the fold."

For the time being, however, the Dublin senior hurlers won't benefit from Kilkenny's return as this erstwhile underage sensation in both codes is sticking with Jim Gavin's senior footballers. On Leeside, meanwhile, Eoin Cadogan has forsaken his dual mandate and will only play senior county football this season.


Asked if this means inter-county dual players are becoming a relic of the past, O'Neill countered: "They're not, and it should be left to the players to decide. It must be great to be capable of playing both . . . I don't mind players making a choice, whichever way they go, that's their own business.

"My concern would be that any player would be put under undue pressure, because at the end of the day as a young person, 19 or 20, how do you know in seven or eight years' time which one you're going to really excel at?"

Fixture clashes, especially in this qualifier age, are clearly an impediment - but one that can be overcome, the president argued.

"If we're putting our players first, they should have the freedom to play whichever sport. They are amateur games, after all, and my wish would be that a player who wants to play both codes should be facilitated," he said. "You don't generally speaking, in the championship, get the two county (teams) out in the one weekend. Certainly not the same day."