“Tipp v Clare...another turkey shoot. Goals are getting scarce. Sliothar has to be looked at. Travelling far too far. Points from distance. Boring.”

If you didn’t know better, you might have guessed Donald Trump had turned his pistols on hurling on Twitter.

As it turned out, it was former Cork hurler Mark Foley who had channelled his inner Trump to lash Sunday’s live televised game in Ennis.

Foley, though, is right. Aside from David Reidy’s strike at the death when Tipperary were throwing caution to the wind, the game was bereft of a clear-cut goal chance.

At Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday, there was just the one scored too and the net bulged twice in Walsh Park.

It may be January and it may be the first round but already the paltry goal numbers are beginning to tally with a worrying trend in Division 1A.

Last year, there was an average of two goals per game across the 15 round matches. The year before, it was 1.93. From highs of three in 2015 and 2.8 in 2013, it’s a fact that goals in top-level hurling are becoming a rarer phenomenon.

In last year’s provincial championships proper and All-Ireland series, there was an average of 2.86 goals per game and in the corresponding period in 2016, it was 2.36.

Contrast those figures to 2012 when there were 96 goals in 24 matches (3.95). The currency of a goal in hurling has rarely been higher.

Now, before anyone rushes to blame Waterford for its steady decline, it’s worth highlighting that there isn’t a growing trend of teams preventing goals who are winning matches, rather those who aren’t scoring them.

In 22 championship games last summer, seven teams won without raising a green flag. That figure was six from 27 games in that outlier year of 2013 but only three from 22 in 2016 and a lonely one from 24 in 2012.

Last summer, Galway conceded at least one goal in all of their five SHC outings.

It’s old news at this stage that Galway scored just two goals on their way to last year’s All-Ireland, both of those coming in the opening Leinster round against Dublin.

Thereafter, for well over 300 minutes of action, they went without a three-pointer and it didn’t matter as they racked up the points, averaging 27.5 a match. In the same number of games in 2005, they found the net on 11 more occasions.

We have been raised to believe goals win games but when they aren’t even winning All-Irelands it’s quite the dig into the solar plexus of our understanding of hurling.

After Sunday’s game in Ennis, Clare co-manager Donal Moloney said the team hardly lacked in the goal-scoring department last year — they averaged over two a game in the championship — but it didn’t seem to do them any good.

The convenient and laziest explanation for recent phenomena is to remark that the skill levels of hurlers have never been higher.

It might also be accurate but then, similar to golf, the tools of the trade have never been better or more complementary to the player. Foley’s argument that the sliotar is too light will find favour among traditionalists.

The drum has been thumped by Babs Keating for several years now and the Tipperary legend has been largely dismissed as a man stuck in his ways but his theory is corroborated time and again.

It also helps that the rims are so small now that making clean contact with the leather has never been easier. GAA director of games development Pat Daly has even spoken about the day when the sliotar will be rimless.

During the first half on Sunday, Clare star Tony Kelly noticed referee Alan Kelly had awarded him advantage in the middle of the field when he stopped to ensure he was given the free.

Clare admittedly had the benefit of a breeze at the time but it would have been considered a makeable free regardless. Rather than developing the attack, Kelly chose to freeze.

And have no doubt it is the equipment that defines so much of what we see now in hurling. It doesn’t help that the maximum size of the hurley bás (13cm) isn’t adhered to or even policed but the sliotar is the key issue.

Set to be regulated early next year, if a little more weight could be added it might make all the difference but there might not be the appetite to do so.

Should goals reach close to Dodo status, there will be calls for the scores to be increased in value as tries were in rugby from three to five points in 1992 but there is the danger of such a move being counter-productive and teams retreating further into their own half and hurling becoming a game more suited to snipers than poachers.

Who’s to say it isn’t already?

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie



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