Up and down the country, GAA clubs are putting up bunting and flags to support local teams in their pursuit of County Championships.  For most outside the sport the lifting of the Liam McCarthy and Sam Maguire Cups at Croke Park in September is the end of Gaelic games until the League gets going again in the spring.
For the grassroots and the 2,000 clubs that represent its base though, October can be a helter skelter of preparation, celebration and occasional triumph.  The problems faced by clubs having to wait for the All Ireland’s to conclude though can be daunting, as is the case with the two sides contesting Sunday’s Dublin Senior Club Hurling Championship Final.
Cuala from Dalkey and Kilmacud Crokes from Stillorgan has been billed on twitter as the #PoshestFinalEver and has attracted much attention with many media people involved in the two clubs.  They are among the largest clubs in the country with combined membership of greater than 3,000 and both are pulling out all the stops to make sure Parnell Park is abuzz at the weekend.
The two sides are organising a festival of hurling with teams at every age from 6 to 16 playing each other before travelling to the north side of the City together.
The logistics of organising a strong support, with all the benefits that follow in terms of attachment to the club, sales of merchandise and social club receipts in the event of a win are the easy part of a big final appearance.
The tougher part lies in preparing players who are often being pulled in many different directions.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Joe Schmidt or even Jim McGuinness can at least rely on first call over their players as a big game approaches.  In the world of professional soccer every aspect of the player’s lives would be accounted for and taken care of to avoid distraction.
That is hardly the case for the managers of Cuala and Kilmacud.  Five of the Cuala players likely to start on Sunday will be in action tonight at Parnell Park in the semi final of the Intermediate Dublin Football Championship against Na Fianna.
Kilmacud’s dual players will have been in action at the weekend when they drew with Ballyboden in the Senior competition.  Both sides incredibly may also have players competing in the Minor Football Championship on Sunday morning before swapping gum shields for helmets and lining out for the biggest club game of their lives.  Five of the players involved in Dublin’s Minor hurling panel that was together until ten days ago are associated with Cuala and almost as many with Kilmacud.
“It does play havoc with training schedules, especially when you have a young team engaged in both codes,” said Harry Roberts, manager of the Cuala senior team.  “We have good codes of practice for dual players, how and when they train and play.”
“For the most part it works well but when you are successful in football and hurling, just as both of us involved on Sunday have been this year, the final stages can become a juggling act worthy of a circus.”
The Hurling Championship in Dublin concluded its group stage in early summer and then went on hold while first senior and then minor teams at inter county level made progress through the All Ireland series.  The quarter final and semi final stages took place on successive weekends before a two week break ahead of the final.
In reality it is the parallel running of hurling and football that has caused the problem.  Young players still in school and college will also be competing on teams at that level and they could be asked by four or five different managers to train and play for one team or another as many as six or more times a week.
They do it willingly where they can and few would want to give up one sport over another if they are making a contribution.
The pressure builds though, and if another offer comes along, such as it has in recent weeks for dual star Ciaran Kilkenny, then the attraction of a professional contract in Australia and the ability to focus on one team can be very hard to ignore.
In challenging times it is hard enough for clubs to hold on to players.  When so many demands are made of those at the peak of their game, something will often give whether through injury or exhaustion.
Change is always difficult to engineer in traditional sporting calendars but if there is to be a future for dual players in hurling and football, perhaps club championships might be tailored to run back to back in the different codes as opposed to in parallel as is now the case.
There are 100 reasons why this might not work but if the ultimate price to be paid is the loss of players then perhaps it is something for those who have hung up their boots to consider.
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