Championship conversations with Michael Moynihan.
1 A hard-earned commodity
Experience is a dear school, yet fools will keep no other.
Hold your horses. Nobody is calling any player or coach over the weekend a fool, that’s just the way Ben Franklin phrased his lessons back in the 18th century.
But experience is hugely valuable, no matter how you frame it.
On 50 minutes last Sunday, Wexford led 2-18 to 1-16 and Tipperary were hanging onto the back of the peloton for dear life.
A Brian Hogan puck-out found Seamus Callanan in oceans of space in the left-half-forward slot, and the forward gathered the ball and turned.
A younger player — a younger Callanan, maybe — might have pinned his ears back and gone for goal, looking for the glory score to revitalise the Tipperary challenge. On Sunday, Callanan took his touch, ambled goal wards, and slotted the easy point.
One back. Scoreboard working.
The Tipperary player and his teammates knew opportunities would come, and the guaranteed point was more valuable than the possible goal.
2 Four steps good,eight steps better
Is there now a general derogation when it comes to overcarrying?
This is not yet another assault on the performances of Alan Kelly and Sean Cleere, because the epidemic of ‘steps, ref’ which is endemic in the game goes far beyond what we saw over the weekend.
(It goes far beyond the game of hurling, come to that — while enjoying Kerry-Mayo a couple of weeks ago, I gave up at nine steps more than once.)
The complication in hurling is that any half-decent player will slap the bas of the hurley off the ball in his hand to give the impression, at least, of playing the ball, but that’s a sideshow in this.
The rule, lest we forget, is four steps with the ball in hand, but this is routinely ignored by all and sundry.
Try this for an experiment. Take the footage from last weekend and try to count not the players who took more than four steps, but those in open play who took fewer. It rewards a rewatch, let me tell you.
Is it because we’ve simply given up on the hand passing action that we’re willing to accommodate the travelling, or is the greater physical confrontation, free hand tackling and all, suggesting even unconsciously to referees to give the man in possession some more leeway?
3 Is a weekend enough?
I hear Anthony Daly about the All-Ireland semi-finals becoming a hurling Woodstock (does that make him the Joni Mitchell of small-ball analysis?), and this weekend was of a piece with last summer’s incredible semi-finals when it comes to entertainment.
It’s some run: two games which were level after normal time last year (Clare-Galway and Cork-Limerick) and two games which were decided by a cumulative three points this year.
Can it continue? The field is pretty level, so when it comes to the sharp end of the season, you’d be confident of good competition and even games.
But when the games aren’t quite at the epic level, will we be looking for a change in date?
It’s July still, and there’s only one senior inter-county hurling game left on the calendar, after all.
I know that this has been thrashed out over and over, but is the quality of the semi-finals we’ve seen for the last two years clouding the issue?
We’ve gone from a time when there were serious games in August and September to one game in those two months to showcase the game, but is the sheer entertainment of one-weekend semi-finals blurring our judgement?
Granted, August is being freed up for the clubs, which I acknowledge.
But even in the warm glow of last weekend, it still looks like a lot of weekends which are empty when they could be devoted to the big show.
4 Quality will out
The four best teams were involved last weekend. That may sound trite, but the overriding sensation at around teatime on Sunday was that Kilkenny, Limerick, Tipperary, and Wexford were a cut above the rest.
It’s difficult to conjure Clare, Cork, Waterford, Dublin, and Galway living with what was on offer in Croke Park in terms of the physical contest and scoring ability.
That isn’t a guarantee that that ranking system is set in stone, or even set in some kind of slightly less inflexible substance.
An All-Ireland winner said to me once that you never feel as fit and ready as you do the morning of an All-Ireland final: even 24 hours later, you’re going downhill.
All of which is to say that based on what we’ve seen in 2019, the best hurling sides were left longest in the competition, but the challenge for everyone outside Kilkenny and Tipperary is different for next year.
Limerick must recover that 5, while Wexford must stay at the level. All the rest of them have different challenges, which leads us nicely to speculation about managerial change.
5 The Sunday Game
There was a touch of ‘what was that all about’ to last Sunday’s show.
There was some surprise that it descended (or ascended, according to your taste) into a discussion on sweepers and respecting the game, and John Bull.
Entertaining as this was, it didn’t seem too relevant to the matter at hand, but analysts Derek McGrath and Dónal Óg Cusack kicked around the notion of spare men at the back and so forth for quite a while before Tipperary- Wexford came up for review.
Am I wrong to think that it looked almost like a demonstration in real time of like minds discussing a tactical approach almost as if . . . as if they were on the sideline as a management team?
Was Sunday night the GAA version of a ‘come and get me’ plea, and if it was, is there a county board in the market for them as a double act?