JOHN FOGARTY: No country for old men in modern intercounty hurling

How to feel your age part I: The Good Friday Agreement is a month older than Kyle Hayes.

How to feel your age part II: Hayes has never used any other currency other than the euro.

Come to think of it, neither have about two-thirds of the Limerick panel.

It was established earlier this decade that hurling is a young man’s game, a couple of years before Clare (average age 23.2) and Cork (24.26) contested the drawn All-Ireland final in 2013. 

Aged 30, Ronan Curran explained the reasoning behind his retirement: “It is now a young man’s game and it’s going to get harder for the older lads whose pace is dwindling to survive as an inter-county hurler.”

If you include the likes of James “Cha” Fitzpatrick, Curran was part of the drip-drip of players 30 or under stepping away, a trend that has now become a deluge. 

Since 2016, there has been the likes of Colin Ryan (29), Darach Honan (27), John O’Keeffe (28), Kieran Joyce (30), Willie Hyland (28), Gearóid Ryan (28) and Peter Kelly (29). All for various reasons but all calling it quits earlier than expected.

In just over 12 months between October 2016 and November 2017, Limerick lost their half-back line of 2013 — Paudie O’Brien (27), Wayne McNamara (30) and Gavin O’Mahony (30). What was coming behind might have propelled them but for the county to replace such a solid triumvirate is even more a testament to them. 

We’re used to young fellas being the heroes of All-Ireland final replays — Walter Walsh was 21 and less than four months old when he scored 1-3 starting at full-forward in the 2012 win over Galway. A year later and Shane O’Donnell was 19 and just over two months when Davy Fitzgerald sprung him from relative obscurity to start him and watch on as he fired home three goals inside the opening 19 minutes.

Now, it’s the norm for 20-year-olds like Conor Whelan last year and Hayes this year to start finals on merit and not as bolters.

Speaking yesterday, John Kiely mentioned how he felt the new Championship structure was made for Limerick given their age profile — incidentally, the average age of the starting team on Sunday was just over 23 excluding 29-year-old goalkeeper Nickie Quaid. 

“We had a massive panel of players, young players. Recovery was going to be quick.”

The Carlow game allowed him to use 27 players in total.

If football is the game for teachers, hurling has become a game for students. 

In February, five of the Limerick panel and four of their starters on Sunday — Seán Finn, Michael Casey, Gearóid Hegarty, Tom Morrissey and Pat Ryan — won a Fitzgibbon Cup title with UL the day before the county side, without them, travelled to Antrim.

“We were back training with the UL lads on the Tuesday,” recalled Kiely. 

“We acknowledged their win and we moved on. It wasn’t mentioned again until we were coming out of Croke Park because it was one of the major stepping stones for the team this year.”

 

“It meant so much to the players that we acknowledged the importance of the Fitzgibbon competition, allowed them to play in the final and stay at home and celebrate with their college mates. They were given the freedom of the city for the night, ‘go and do what ye want to do and we’ll see ye Tuesday night at training’. That’s important. We didn’t tell them to be home or not to drink. We told them to go and enjoy themselves.”

Look at how youth has propelled Cork to another Munster senior title this year and it’s not so much the trust being placed in the likes of Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon that is being repaid as the expectancy in them to deliver being satisfied.

This Sunday, they play in the last ever All-Ireland U21 final, an occasion that will be poignant for traditionalists. 

“Why break something that hasn’t proven to be broken” will be the cry.

But when the lines between the senior and U21 are so blurred that they seem to be parallel competitions almost competing with one another something has to give. Gaelic football remains the game for men — that was never so apparent as how a canny Monaghan advanced to the All-Ireland semi-finals ahead of a green Kerry — but hurling is for the boys, which is no slight by any means.

If the copycat nature of elite Gaelic games prevails, challengers will look to Limerick as a reason why those players edging towards 30 or hitting it might be jettisoned although Kiely had hoped to retain more experience than he did. Nevertheless, youth’s currency in hurling has never been stronger.

<p class="orangeheader">Harte and Tyrone still staying silent</p>

No country for old men in modern intercounty hurling

Mickey Harte and Tyrone’s decision not to speak to RTÉ ahead of — and after — the All-Ireland SFC final against Dublin will be regarded as dogmatic in some quarters and ignorant in others.

It’s seven years since the matter first arose when the national broadcasters showed scant regard in a radio programme for Harte after the tragic death of his daughter Michaela.

Since then, Tyrone have rowed in behind the Ballygawley man.

But there are also pragmatic reasons why Tyrone intend maintaining their boycott against those in Montrose. The ban hasn’t done Tyrone any harm in getting to this final so, to all of a sudden lift it, would be an unusual move.

Besides, it remains a rallying call even though it is not as strong as it would have been in the past.

Many of Harte’s greatest warriors like Seán Cavanagh, Philip Jordan, and Brian McGuigan have all done work for RTÉ since retiring and the broadcaster will still get by without direct comment from one of the camps. However, it’s a telling reminder of just how deep the jibe cut at Harte and the GAA community in Tyrone. When nobody has yet to be brought to justice for Michaela’s murder, it’s understandable that so many wounds remain open.

<p class="orangeheader">Championship tweaks can help club fixtures</p>

A team deserving of an All-Ireland final victory — sure, after a momentous championship everything felt right in the world on Sunday except one thing: that it was August. For that as well as this having been the gauntlet of all gauntlets as All-Ireland championships go, Limerick’s success will live long.

Regular All-Ireland final attendees would have noticed an unmistakable difference about the day not least the humidity. Long after Declan Hannon had lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup, there was still a lot of light left in the sky. When GAA followers have come to put their clocks back by those final days in September, it’s quite disorientating.

An August All-Ireland final — two from next year — hasn’t done much for clubs thus far. The determination to segregate the inter-county championship season from the club championship season doesn’t look so sensible when so few matches are being played.

In his programme notes on Sunday, GAA president John Horan wrote: “One critical observation has been the scheduling of the games and the pressure created playing week after week in the provincial stages.

“I believe this can be looked at to see if we can relieve the pressure, which would benefit the games.”

A later-finishing All-Ireland SHC with breaks between matches where club championship matches must be played seems a healthier option than the current situation where Limerick’s competitions have yet to begin, Galway are only two games in having last played at the end of April, Clare are one round in and Cork are two.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie


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