Michael Kiely

Waterford senior football manager John Kiely hands his sideline pass to gateman Jack Luke as he enters the pitch prior to Sunday’s McGrath Cup semi-final against University of Limerick at Kill GAA grounds. | Photo: Michael Kiely

While he’s always been a shrug-of the-shoulders and just-get-on-with-it type of guy, beneath the surface John Kiely must be pretty peed off.

The Waterford football manager learned this week that four of his main men – namely, the Abbeyside/Ballinacourty Hurney brothers, Gary, John and Patrick, and Fourmilewater’s Shane Walsh – will all be focusing exclusively on hurling this year. They were asked to commit to the county’s preferred code by Davy Fitzgerald and, while it won’t have been an easy decision, that’s little or no consolation to Kiely, who is trying to manage with not so much an arm tied behind his back as bound by a straightjacket.

Despite having to do without the likes of Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh (one of the finest footballers in Munster) in recent years, the tireless Kilrossanty clubman has brought the county team on a ton since taking over. After narrowly missing out on promotion last season, escaping from Division 4 this spring was a realistic goal. Now those hopes may be dashed for the foreseeable future.

Kiely above all else is a realist, though. “Hurling is the big one around here and, in fairness, there were lots of footballers in this county over the years who were afraid to tell the hurling management that they wanted to keep playing football. But it is a terrible blow to lose the lads now because we are already without a lot of players, including Shane Briggs and Ger Power”, both long-term injury victims.

The days of the top inter-county dual player are over by and large, even if Justin McCarthy must contend with three of his Limerick hurlers – Stephen Lucey, Stephen Walsh and Mark O’Riordan – wanting to play Gaelic for Mickey Ned O’Sullivan as well.

“I have spoken to Justin and we’re going to give it a go for a while and see how it’s going,” the Kerryman says. “You have to give players a right to play both if they’re capable of doing it.”

Fair play to them, I say. It’s a fierce effort to play one code for your county, never mind two. (Gary Hurney did both last year.) And most modern managers will contend that it’s impossible to plough both furrows.

Teddy McCarthy’s achievement in winning both the Liam McCarthy and Sam Maguire Cups with Cork in 1990 will hardly happen again. And possibly wouldn’t be allowed to, more’s the pity. Given the choice, players in Waterford will almost always take their chances with the hurlers – and who could blame them. Credit anyone who’s good enough to get the call. But how many will actually be in with a genuine chance of making the cut when it comes to the crunch?