John Fogarty: Hurling doesn’t have an existential crisis

In the 2020 All-Ireland Hurling final, there were 29 frees awarded and Limerick conceded 19 of those
John Fogarty: Hurling doesn’t have an existential crisis

NOT FOR STOPPING: Westmeath’s Killian Doyle gets his shot off under pressure from Waterford’s Ian Kenny, left, and Billy Power during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A Round 2 match at Walsh Park in Waterford at the weekend. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Hurling’s determination to talk itself into an existential crisis is getting silly. Those voicing concern don’t appear to know what they want — a change to how it is played or refereed.

Last week, we presented reasons why the game is being officiated as it is right now.

With another batch of referees taking charge of their first games this past weekend, there was going to be more grounds for rustiness and pernicketiness. Yes, the free count is up but then so too are the amount of clumsy and poorly executed tackles.

All round, there is room to improve but is it enough to believe the game is becoming a turn-off?

The contribution from John Kiely on Sunday was a valuable one.

His comments about simulation in particular should be heeded and go for almost every team and hurling does have a slight entertainment issue but like any leading manager he was speaking primarily for his team than the game despite what he protested.

“It does appear that the game has changed in the last four months when we’ve all been at home and someone has decided to take the tackle out of the game,” he said of how hurling was being refereed.

“We had nobody here watching the game today and in 12 months’ time we’re going to have nobody watching it if it’s 36 frees they are going to be sitting down to watch.”

The irony is there are those who look at Limerick’s system and believe their approach have taken spontaneity out of the game.

That is lazy analysis — goals became less necessary to win All-Irelands going back to Galway back in 2017 — but when you’re at the top you’re there to be shot at.

Former Kilkenny defender Paul Murphy recognised parallels between that narrative about Limerick and his own team when they were lording it.

“I was kind of laughing when I heard people saying: ‘Oh, Limerick are playing on the edge’,” he told The GAA Hour last week. “I said: ‘This all sounds all a bit familiar to me’.

“Limerick at the moment are dealing with the tag of being champions and they were going through a honeymoon period after winning the All-Ireland a few years ago and now they have the second All-Ireland and the crowd is starting to turn a bit.

Champions will play on the edge.”

But other than the last two results, not too much on the surface has changed for Limerick since last December.

In the All-Ireland final, there were 29 frees awarded and they conceded 19 of those.

Against Tipperary, they coughed up 21 and 24 against Galway.

However, the redrawing of the advantage rule has, for now at least, put more emphasis on the tackle of which Limerick have made an art form.

Six years ago, their current coach Paul Kinnerk wrote a thought-provoking column for this newspaper about the swarm tackle and how it was misunderstood.

“‘Swarm tackling’ (a group of players tackling one) is being inconsistently punished. Swarm tackling is one of the highest forms of intensity and should be rewarded when used correctly rather than punished.

“It signals two things: Firstly, it is rewarding the risk taken by a defender to leave his opponent and tackle another opponent, and secondly it is punishing the attacking player for dwelling too long on the ball and allowing such a situation to take place.

“This rewards poor and clever decision-making yet referees will regularly side with the man in possession even though it is very difficult to spot what infringements a group of players who are of a numerical advantage have made.”

Ah, so we have been here before. You can see how the new advantage rule might run against Kinnerk’s philosophy where the player in possession is given the benefit of the doubt over the one attempting to dispossess him.

But for all Limerick have experienced in the last fortnight, their Munster semi-final opponents Cork encountered something different on Saturday when they were regularly pinged for holding onto the ball too long, much to the chagrin of Kieran Kingston.

But such are the vagaries of refereeing and hurling right now as everyone plays catch-up.

Limerick aren’t so much a winning team now as a way of hurling. How Cork flank their most skilful, best passing player Mark Coleman between sizeable men with Robert Downey and Niall Cashman has shades of the Byrnes-Hannon-Hayes/Dan Morrissey half-back axis.

But Cork know they can only replicate elements of Limerick’s game.

Doing without goals is something they can’t as they seem to realise on the basis of what they have shown this month.

Hurling’s rocketing evolution will ensure it doesn’t become a homogeneous bore.

And Limerick, as their tackling sharpens, will have less to fear.

Football caught up in double jeopardy

Dublin's Cormac Costello scores a second-half point from a penalty at Dr Hyde Park. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin's Cormac Costello scores a second-half point from a penalty at Dr Hyde Park. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Did Cormac Costello take pity on Roscommon in kicking that last penalty over the bar on Sunday?

It certainly seemed that way as he chose not to complete a hat-trick of penalty goals.

Like Robbie Fowler tamely took that penalty against Arsenal in 1997 after insisting he wasn’t fouled for it, you could be led to wonder if the Dublin forward was staging his own form of protest about the penalty decision, which was a tenuous interpretation of a foot block. Then again, Dublin were out of sight. His attitude might have been different had the fat been in the fire.

Afterwards, Roscommon manager Anthony Cunningham expressed his disappointment at the new sin bin/penalty rule having temporarily lost two players on top of Costello’s penalty goals, although some of his frustration was surely projected by seeing how the opposition took mercy on his team.

As he said about the All-Ireland champions: “Nobody — Dublin included — could understand why a penalty was given in some of those instances.”

Cunningham was right to question the fouls as being ones that denied goalscoring opportunities: “On two occasions I thought there were plenty of players back and I don’t think that rule... it possibly could be in hurling but not in football. I don’t think (there was) the reason for those two penalties there today.”

Certainly, the second penalty was most dubious.

Cunningham knows both games well and in his time in charge of the Galway hurlers would have seen how rule changes aimed at football were introduced in hurling.

Now it is the other way around and football is the victim of a catch-all rule.

Football league will soon lose momentum

Kerry's David Clifford sells a dummy on the way to scoring a goal at Austin Stack Park. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Kerry's David Clifford sells a dummy on the way to scoring a goal at Austin Stack Park. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Confirmation last week that Kerry won’t be able to retain their Division 1 title outright didn’t seem to put them off as they dismantled Galway in Tralee on Saturday.

Facing Dublin in Thurles on Sunday, there shouldn’t be much evidence of a loss of incentive either.

That said, a victory against the All-Ireland champions is sure to see them taper their interest in the remainder of the competition as it would secure their Division 1 status for another season, with their Munster SFC quarter-final against Clare just five weeks away.

And, as Peter Keane has already admitted, avoiding injury is his biggest priority in the competition.

Kerry aren’t the only ones who could miss a potential league final — another 13 counties will also be deprived the opportunity of outright divisional success due to their provincial campaigns commencing on June 26 or 27.

Those are the breaks in a condensed season, you might say, but interest in the league really should increase as it gets to the business end of the competition.

Effectively denying almost half of participating teams of silverware because of scheduling dents the integrity of the best structured competition in Gaelic football.

Promotion and relegation will obviously keep teams keen, but it won’t be long before the perfunctory nature of the competition raises its head and teams with nothing to play for will turn their attention elsewhere.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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