It’s not quite true to say that the hurling season is upon us again, because the hurling season has never truly left us, not even for a weekend or a few days off over Christmas.
It’s a 24-hour-a-day-non-stop-cabaret, though the keen-eyed among you will note I abandoned the ‘erotic’ from the old Soft Cell album title. There have been some enthralling sideline cuts taken in recent years, but even the best of them don’t confer a warm romantic glow.
I choose the sideline cut specifically, however, because of something landed on my desk last week: the book 20/20 Vision: Hurling and Limerick by Ciaran Crowe and Joe Lyons.
Regular consumers of this corner of the newspaper will recall that the same team produced At Last, a publication which commemorated Limerick’s All-Ireland season of 2018 in intriguing detail.
This production is slightly different. It offers some valuable statistical information on Limerick hurling such as rolls of honour and intercounty players’ careers as well as a detailed review of the 2019 season for Limerick.
While last season may remain fresh in the memory, the kind of detail on offer in the statistics is all the more valuable because of the general dearth of that kind of resource in GAA terms: each county board could do worse than commission this kind of in-depth record of their past, in fact.
If this was all we had on offer in this book it’d still be a fine read, but I’m sure Crowe and Lyons won’t mind me saying that a lot of the real enjoyment comes at the front of the publication, with the imaginative juxtaposition of documents from the 80s on coaching the game of hurling with the perspectives of both those involved then — the likes of Michael O’Grady and Eamonn Cregan — with their views on how the game has changed: how new skills are now needed for the sport and some of the traditional skills which were integral three decades ago are now more or less redundant.
There are contributions also from current players and coaches on the changes in the game generally, from Brian Cody to Eamon O’Shea outside Limerick, and from many of Limerick’s All-Ireland winning team and management.
Eamon Cregan’s view on one clear difference between the old game and the new: “Possession was not a major part of the game in my playing days: in fact, if you held onto the ball you could get killed.”
This blends nicely with Eamon O’Shea’s views on both tackling in the modern game and the decay of first-time hurling: “The key is not to give the ball away nowadays, so ground hurling is not practised at all. Tackling skills are practised but not only those that fit with current refereeing guidelines. Tackling is less wild now than it was in the past.”
Fr Seamus Gardiner’s views on the people in a championship dressing room ring as true today as they did in the 80s (“The dressing room can be a League of Nations made up of various personnel from taxi-drivers to the local curate or local politician.”) but there’s real value in the advice of Fintan Walsh on caring for the tool of the trade: “Hurleys should be stored in a cool, dry and airy place, a shed with a concrete floor . . . direct sunlight causes warping, as does central heating. Wet hurleys should not be stored in a confined space, such as a plastic bag or the boot of a car.”
And yes, the eternal verities are acknowledged as well: the authors quote from one of the greatest books ever written about the sport, Hurling by Tony Wall: “At the end of a game, when players are tired, the man who can drive a ball 70 yards with a flick of his wrists will be in better shape than a man who has to putall his strength into his swing.”
For these and other gems I strongly recommend this one: it’s available in outlets across Limerick and O’Mahony’s Booksellers are handling online sales.
Best of luck to all who sail in an event gearing up for the end of next month. Sidelines, Touchlines and Hemlines: Women in Irish Sport is a conference scheduled for the County Museum Dundalk on Friday, 28th February.
An old pal of this column, Dr Katie Liston, is the keynote speaker, but I note the call for papers is open until Wednesday this week if you have something in mind (“submissions based on original research are welcomed from scholars of any disciplines related to Irish women in any aspect) of sport or physical recreation in Ireland or overseas”.)
You probably noticed the 20x20.ie campaign last year about improving and maintaining the visibility of women’s sport, and this conference is just the kind of event that should build on the work done in 2019.
I see that the organisers hope the final proceedings will form the basis of a special edition of the Studies in Arts and Humanities journal - to continue the discussion around women’s sport in Ireland and the need for further research in this area.
(Drop me a copy when that appears, folks.)
Another All-Ireland title went south last week, with the BT Young Scientist of the Year Award coming to Cork for the 112th year in succession.
There are always a few interesting sports-related projects which pop up, though the winner wasn’t an immediately obvious example of the genre.
Which isn’t to say it wasn’t an interesting project. Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan of Coláiste Choilm in Ballincollig focused on determining how early gender stereotyping can be identified, running a few tests on several hundred 5-7 year olds.
For instance, 96% of boys in the group drew a male engineer, for instance, while only half of girls drew a female engineer.
I need hardly stress how germane this is to sport as a whole. It’s plain to be seen in the data gap when it comes to sports science, which I wrote about in these pages last year, for instance.
Or in attitudes which flourish in places too numerous to mention, unfortunately.
A second book this week, but not quite as many quotations from it.
Deborah Orr died last year just as she’d finished her memoir of growing up in Scotland, and by all accounts it leans heavily on the influence of her home place, Motherwell.
No surprise that she uses that both as title and as a subliminal message to someone about to read it.
Though Orr was a success in the London media bubble, seeing this in a Guardian review (by Andrew O’Hagan) was enough to convince me the book needed a home on my shelves.
Referring to Orr’s observations of her home place, O’Hagan says the book “is a searching, truthful, shocking (and timely) observance of the blight that monetarist policies can bring about in a community of workers, indeed on a whole culture of fairness and improvement...”