Áine McAllister and Ciara Finnegan, two gems in dual sporting crowns
The dual inter-county GAA player is now almost a relic from the past.
Cork still produce them in abundance, but nowadays they don’t play for both panels during the same year.
Instead, as Damian Cahalane has done recently, they may play one code for a few years and then switch to the other.
The successful Dublin football team contains several players who excelled in both codes through the age-groups. At senior level though there seems to be room for just one code.
Not so in the ladies’ games. Again Cork are the leaders. The Rebels produced a number of players over the past decade and a half who won All-Ireland medals in both football and camogie, the most decorated of whom are Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley each with a combined haul of 18 All-Ireland senior medals.
The likes of Hannah Looney and Chloe Sigerson continue that tradition. So too do Tipperary midfielders Orla O’Dwyer and Aisling Maloney with O’Dwyer also trying to add Aussie Rules into the mix over this Irish winter.
Ulster counties are making less of an impact at senior level in either code, but there is still a significant number of dual inter-county players.
In yesterday’s Irish News Karen McMullan and Cathy Carey discussed their journeys as dual inter-county players and why each of them now has opted for just one code, Karen in camogie and Cathy in football.
Today we look at two more players who kept both the O’Neill’s and the sliotar moving in 2020 and who intend to mix the codes in the season ahead.
DERRY don’t have too many dual inter-county players. One key asset is Ballinascreen midfielder Áine McAllister.
“I played both games right through from I was a youngster. The ‘Screen is one of a few clubs in Derry that play in all four codes. So at club level we have always worked well with both camogie and football.
“There would just be two or three girls on the club football team at the minute who are not playing camogie as well. Pre-season training has always been done as one group.
“There were always clashes – two games on the same day, big games on the same weekend. I remember a couple of years ago as defending champions we had a Derry football title on a Sunday evening and I had a big county camogie match the day before while five or six other girls were expected to play football for Derry also the day before.
“However I can’t remember growing up the same desire to make it on to the Derry football team as there was to get on to the county camogie team.
“I was just coming into senior county in 2012 when we won the All-Ireland Intermediate camogie championship in Croke Park. I then played on teams that won five out of six Ulster senior titles up to 2017. So there was maybe always a push with county camogie more than football.
“People sometimes tell you that club comes first. But I always wanted to play for Derry in football as well. There is a pride in pulling on the county jersey, no matter the code. It isn’t really about being successful. I know that is what you set out to be but there is enjoyment in just playing in a Derry jersey.
“Over the past three or four years I had gone to county football intending to play all season and then later on had to step away as there were just too many demands, mainly around fixtures.
“Last year I managed to start and finish the season with both teams which was an achievement, but only possible because we ended up with a split season as a result of COVID. The two county management teams were very accommodating and I could have doubled up on football sessions the week ahead of a football match and vice versa for camogie.
“Looking at Cork from the outside I think that they do not have the same emphasis on club leagues. That frees up the county players to be there when they can. In many other counties club leagues matter a lot more and clubs would rather see you wearing their jersey than going to a county game the same week.”
In late 2019, the primary school teacher was elected to represent Derry on the WGPA. She managed to attend just one national meeting before COVID hit.
“The clash of fixtures at county level came up several times at that meeting and we really need to get that message through to the two governing bodies.
“At the moment neither seem to want to listen and the end result is that potential dual stars such as Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery are going to be forced to choose one sport much earlier in their careers and both sports will ultimately suffer.”
CAVAN only re-entered camogie at national level last year after an absence of a decade and a half. They had just two dual players on the panel for 2020 but that is set to increase to as many as seven for the incoming season.
Ciara Finnegan juggled both codes last year. She has been a regular on the football side for around six years now.
“The split club/county season definitely helped us because I didn’t have four teams looking for me to play for them in the same week.
“I have played all the way through with a dual club (Crosserlough) and any managers we had understood that our football and camogie teams get the same attention and we have done well with that approach, winning Ulster titles in camogie and county titles in football.
“Jimmy Greville (Cavan camogie manager) brought us to back-to-back Ulster club titles in 2017-2018 and he understands the dual situation. So last year when he took over the county team, he tried to accommodate myself and Róisín O’Keefe.”
Cavan play in the Division Two National League and Ulster senior championship in football while in camogie they made a winning start by lifting the Nancy Murray Cup and reaching the All-Ireland Junior final.
“At the start of last year the two sports were almost at two different ends of the spectrum, but in 2021 they will be a good bit closer together and both teams will have aspirations of silverware.
“A couple more of the football team are joining the camogie team and Shanise (Fitzsimons) and Sinéad (McKenna) are playing football as well as camogie. But we won’t know for definite how many dual players we have until we get back training.
“Last year, Róisín and I missed a couple of camogie games to be with the footballers and we also had to miss a couple of football games to be with the camogs. But that situation is going to be a lot more problematic if there are six or seven of an overlap.
“Training won’t be an issue I think as both managements and panel know the score. However games are sure to clash. I think Jimmy is intending carrying a larger panel of maybe up to 40 players so that if girls have to go to a football game, the camogie team can absorb the impact to some extent.
“At the minute really it is about waiting to see what fixtures we have and how we can manage them. If we have a split club/county season, I think it can be managed reasonably well.”
Finnegan played right through the age-groups at county level in both codes winning an All-Ireland minor camogie title in 2015.
“There was a few clashes along the way alright. I remember one Saturday travelling down to Kerry for a football game on the Saturday and then getting up on Sunday to go to play camogie in Carrickmore.
“We will be very lucky if we avoid those scenarios and same day clashes. I am just itching to get playing to be honest.”