Belfast Telegraph

Inter-county commitments are whole new ball game these days

By Declan Bogue

There was an odd cocktail of bemusement and amusement outside the John Vesey Stand in Brewster Park last Saturday night.

The most popular story was the one of the two county men doing a bit of moonlighting with local soccer teams; Seamus Quigley and Niall Cassidy.

Manager Pete McGrath dealt with the situation in the time-honoured fashion of successive Crossmaglen Rangers managers; you can play soccer if you want, but it makes you ineligible for selection on a Sunday.

The fact that this game was taking place a matter of hours after both Cassidy and Quigley netted in their games for their respective soccer clubs left many agog at their audacious sporting attempt.

There is no doubt that for some this fed into the cult appeal of Quigley, a man seemingly oblivious to social norms and accepted practice.

His talent is unquestionable but his short county career has always been speckled with incidents, droppings and walk-outs.

Some weeks ago he talked about wanting to prove people wrong, that he had staying power and that he wished to complete his first full year on the panel. His brother had been nominated as vice-captain and he had been making good on his promise.

That was before he decided his troublesome hamstring injury could do with 90 minutes on an artificial surface prior to a National League game.

McGrath did the only thing that was acceptable and made it clear that soccer and Gaelic football did not mix.

It wasn't always like this. Back in February 2007, Fermanagh travelled to Omagh for a National League match.

During their 0-14 to 0-8 defeat, Ryan McCluskey replaced current selector Raymond Johnston and Shane McCabe came on for Mark Little.

The two had played for Dungannon Swifts earlier in the day and manager Charlie Mulgrew was fully aware of this.

That's the way it was back then.

Gaelic footballers had always dabbled in a little soccer in the off-season anyway, with fewer playing rugby. That may have owed a little to the feeling that rugby felt like a closed-shop to many Gaels, but there were always exceptions to the rule.

Nowadays, if you are an inter-county footballer, there is no such room for sporting ecumenism. Gaelic football is your first, your last, your everything.

GAA President Liam O'Neill makes the point that the GAA does not own players, but such is the pressure exerted on players in a county squad that the 'all or nothing' approach is not the preferred one, but anything less is simply unacceptable.

There are consolations, however and no crowd are as forgiving as a sports fanbase. For example, should Seamus Quigley appear in their next game against Longford and aim a tricky free from distance over the bar, the cheer that will greet it will be as loud that ever greeted a typically-brilliant score from Quigley.

That is the nature of sport. You can do whatever you want but if you produce the goods on the pitch, your adoring following will love you nonetheless.

A win for your sports team is reflected in the sense of self-worth of many fans. That's the power someone like Seamus Quigley has. And it's not worth jeopardising for kickabout in the Fermanagh and Western soccer league.

Belfast Telegraph

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