# Challenge
'We do support the dual player, but we can't design an entire fixtures programme around a player'
The dual player concept and trial rules were two topics Camogie Association CEO Sinéad McNulty recently discussed with The42.

a-general-view-of-croke-park Tommy Dickson / INPHO Croke Park on 2019 All-Ireland camogie finals day. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

THE DUAL PLAYER concept is one that’s highlighted each and every year — but often through a fixture clash controversy rather than through sheer praise for those who play two sports at the highest level.

Yes, it’s probably a dying breed but there are still stars across the length and breadth of the country playing two Gaelic games codes for their county. When it comes to ladies football and camogie, in particular.

In Cork, Hannah Looney and Libby Coppinger have been at the centre of many a dual storm over the past few years — taking over from Rena Buckley and Briege Corkery who went before. In Tipperary, there’s Orla O’Dwyer, who has now established herself as a trible threat after her exploits with Aussie Rules side Brisbane Lions Down Under.

And Limerick’s Róisín Ambrose is one of several other talented inter-county dual players.

She’s also one of many who were left disheartened after a decision at the Ladies Gaelic Football Association’s [LGFA] Annual Congress in March.

A Dublin motion, which called for official recognition and support of the dual player concept, was rejected — and after delegates predominately voted against the proposal, Ambrose was one of many to share her dissatisfaction.

“I was so disappointed,” she told The42 at the time, echoing the words of many on social media. “It’s heartbreaking really.”

Through the fallout, LGFA President Marie Hickey rejected suggestions that the Association is against the dual player concept, adding that the majority of the discussion on the motion at Congress “was on the wording of the motion, and the definition of ‘dual.’”

Camogie Association President Kathleen Woods, CEO Sinéad McNulty, and Women’s GPA chairperson Maria Kinsella were all present at Congress, and the LGFA said that “the overwhelming feeling on the ground was that there is excellent collaboration between the two bodies on dual players, and that will remain the case.”

The Camogie Association have also since been keen to express their support for the dual player, with Ard Stiúrthóir McNulty discussing the concept in detail with The42 last week.

“Listen, I’m a sports professional,” she began, during an in-depth interview to mark the recent publication of the Association’s National Development Plan 2020-23.

“My entire student life and adult life has been centred around sports. I’m about people playing as much as they want, at the level they want, for as long as they can. That’s my personal choice, my personal preference, my personal belief… an ideal.

The reality is as the games are becoming more professional in terms of how people train and prepare themselves, it’s really challenging for players to be dual players.

“You talk to any of the inter-county players: if they’re playing just one code, they’re training six-days-a-week, or five-days-a-week with a match, between in-person training and gym training, all the rest of it and a match or two as well. That’s one sport.

“You’re playing two sports, you’re doubling the impact, but there should be no reason that we would stop people being dual players.

“Ideally, you don’t want to have people make a choice. That’s, you know, in an ideal world but again, the reality is: 52 weeks in a year, you can do everything that you can but if we have as many teams as we would like to have playing the games, there’s always going to be some challenges. And it’s trying to minimise those.

“I believe anyone should be able to play as much as they can and as much as they want and if they want to play two codes, great, and if they want to play international soccer and rugby as well, fantastic. We’ve fantastic hockey players as well who have come through camogie.

shauna-quirke-is-tackled-by-libby-coppinger-and-hannah-looney Bryan Keane / INPHO Cork duo Libby Coppinger (left) and Hannah Looney (right) are two of the country's top dual players. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

“As an Association, we have to do our best for them. But we also have to realise that there are limitations and constraints in it, and particularly this year [with the shortened season], it’s just particularly challenging.”

The fixture clashes are often unavoidable, she says, especially when it comes to the business end of championship with TV coverage commitments and what not else on the line.

The Camogie Association and the LGFA remain in constant engagement on the matter though, McNulty assures.

“We’ve engaged with our colleagues in the LGFA and we’ve done our best but we all have commitments as well regarding television and stuff like that.

It can be challenging, but yeah, definitely we do support the dual player, but we can’t always design an entire fixtures programme for a country around a player because that player is on a team with 30 other girls.

“And that’s the other part of it as well: you’re trying to do the best thing that you can for the sport and for the Association and for the players. We have had challenges when you’re trying to solve a problem, which will affect maybe four teams around one dual player and that can be really tricky.

“It’s really complicated, but we’ll continue to do our best on it and try. But yeah, unless there’s an extra 52 weekends in the year, at some point in the year we’re going to face a challenge and particularly this year.”

2020 as a whole has certainly been a challenge, with Covid-19 shutting down the Gaelic games calendar. With the club game back in action since July, McNulty is ‘optimistic’ and hopeful for a successful return to inter-county camogie in October.

After a stop-start beginning to the league earlier this year, there may be differences come championship — the main one focusing on the future of the trial rule changes.

Contact, persistent fouling, puck-outs, frees, goalscoring and penalties were all covered on a trial basis for the 2020 National League after a steady stream of criticism from current and former players about the stop-start nature of matches.

A decision to continue them or not for championship is due to be made shortly. 

And McNulty agrees that there seemed to be a largely positive reaction to the changes, though they weren’t enforced for just as long as expected through the spring.

“Listen, 2020 has just been spiralling from the start,” said the Dubliner. “We had four weekends of weather warnings just before Covid came in. We didn’t get as many games played as we would have liked to see the trial rules in.

sinead-mcnulty-and-leo-varadkar James Crombie / INPHO McNulty with then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the 2019 All-Ireland final. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“A huge amount of research went into preparation of the trial rules, a huge amount of analysis, some great brains around the table pulling together from the camogie side, from the sports side generally looking at the medical implications of things that you might put in, and we came up with a cohesive plan.

“There’s other things that could be done and we have a sort of a backup list as well as things you might look at in the future, but what we went with, everybody was very comfortable to go with.

They were innovative, they were speeding up the game, they were demonstrating the skill of the individual players and really challenging. When they rolled out in so far as they did, it was generally very positive.

“We had regular interaction with players, managers and coaches They were invited to feed back on a regular basis and yeah, it was genuinely very positively received.

“A couple of tweaks, there’s always tweaks in these things, and you learn by doing,” she added. “There are things you might change, but generally, they were very positively received.

“I think the biggest part of it was the fact that the decision was made to do it and again, credit to the delegates at Congress who voted and who brought it in and who made that brave decision.

“It is a brave thing to to introduce change like that. I think generally people were happy. I haven’t had any major challenges in the street about it yet anyway!”

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