Hurling not yet ready to tackle cynicism scourge

TJ Reid of Kilkenny in action against John Hanbury of Galway during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Kilkenny and Galway at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile.

A body language expert wasn’t required to work out Brian Cody’s mood in the wake of Sunday’s defeat to Galway.

Quizzed about Colm Lyons’ time-keeping and the red cards administered to Paul Murphy and Ger Aylward, he appeared almost as irate with the line of questioning as the referee’s performance: “You’re confused about the time-keeping, you’re confused about the red cards — I’m equally confused.”

Yet another argument for taking time-keeping out of referees’ hands and/or introducing the clock/hooter was provided in Nowlan Park on Sunday.

And once more the Kilkenny manager’s disdain for the card system in hurling came to the fore.

“It’s hard to see merit in these red cards,” he told RTÉ.

Five years ago, Kilkenny legend Eddie Keher, backed by Cody, spoke to this newspaper of his hopes to rid yellow and red cards from hurling.

“I abhor the whole ritual of showing cards to our hurlers. It is a sort of pompous and sometimes triumphalist exercise causing humiliation to our great players in front of their families, friends, supporters and hurling people. We always admired players who went for the 50-50 ball or even the 40-60 ball.

"They were lauded and admired but now if you commit a technical foul a player is consigned to being nearly a passenger for the rest of the game.

He can’t tackle, he can’t do anything. That has taken from the great physical part of our game.

Keher’s comments in part prompted then GAA president Liam O’Neill establish the Hurling 2020 Committee, headed up by current Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy. The compromise they came up with was a version of the black card. Only a player picking up a second yellow card would be replaced

The report read:

“Overall, as a committee, we feel that a) hurling is not a cynical game, b) we are best served where the game is 15 v 15 and c) the impact on underage players being sent off for two bookable offences is putting an unfair pressure on the individuals given the consequence of their team-mates being down a player.

"While not wishing to diminish the punishment on the player for two yellow card offences in hurling, the Hurling 2020 committee feel the added punishment of ensuring a team is down a player for the rest of the game cannot be justified in a game where discipline is not seen as an issue.”

The motion failed as did a separate proposal calling for the black card to be introduced to hurling.

The truth is hurling is probably still not ready for it as much as cynicism dogs the game. In deliberately tripping Ger Aylward — which prompted the Kilkenny forward to retaliate and earn a second yellow card — Aidan Harte on Sunday only picked up a yellow card.

Paul Murphy may have been shown the line for persistent fouling but in isolation his last infringement wasn’t half as bad as Harte’s action.

It’s inadequate that the penalty for such fouls are the same as those that are either mistimed or heavy-handed. So much of what makes hurling work is the physical nature of it — but what Galway did in the closing stages in Nowlan Park was more cynical than physical.

How else could you explain the prominence of TJ Reid’s frees — all four of them — as Kilkenny chased down Galway’s six-point lead in the closing 15 minutes, Galway failing to score in that time?

The cynicism didn’t stop at Harte’s trip. Johnny Hanbury’s foul on Aylward, Pádraic Mannion held back Billy Ryan’s arm and Daithí Burke’s non-tackle in body-checking Reid.

We don’t cite Galway here to single them out — no team is immune from it — but merely to illustrate it’s a hurling problem.

There were a number of examples on Limerick’s part in their win over Clare later on Sunday while the Banner were the kings of indiscipline in this season’s League.

Kilkenny's TJ Reid celebrates scoring a goal. Credit: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy.
Kilkenny's TJ Reid celebrates scoring a goal. Credit: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy.

In last year’s League, Kilkenny, Dublin and Waterford goalkeepers Eoin Murphy, Alan Nolan, and Ian O’Regan unashamedly pulled down forwards knowing the worst they would receive was a yellow card and concede a penalty or free.

It’s not just football that suffers from such controlled desperation.

For all the good work the Hurling 2020 group did, they fell foul of the affliction most hurling people suffer from — being sympathisers for the game.

Just as it did then, the game now has an issue with cynicism but it remains in denial. Be it a sin-bin or a black card, hurling has to look beyond its self-righteousness to cure itself.

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