Not to overanalyse the All-Ireland final last Sunday week or anything . . . but . . . can we just talk about the very end of the game, when Joe Canning was doing his best to imitate the Grinch and steal Christmas from all of Limerick?
As we all know now his late, late free didn’t quite carry all the way over the bar and Tom Condon’s handling made the game safe for the green and white.
No disgrace in that: Canning has a superb strike, but that free was a long, long way from the Limerick goal. The Galway man was in his own half, having played almost 80 minutes of hurling, and though the TV close-ups saw him slow his breathing as he tried to get himself set, his storming final quarter, as he reeled in Limerick almost single-handedly, must have sapped his energy.
When he struck that free his follow-through was slightly exaggerated, the hurley held over his back for a second like a golfer teeing off.
That was a giveaway: A player like Canning knows the instant he’s hit the ball if the contact is as good as he wanted, or if it’s slightly off. When he buried that free in the net a few minutes earlier — seriously: Has there been a more venomous strike this year? — Canning would have known the goal was assured. Not with the last free.
The reason I bring this up is that I heard of an American documentary during the week about Ted Williams, the famous baseball player - famous for his ability to hit the ball, and famous for his inimitable style in doing so. The title of the documentary tells you everything - The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.
The makers of the documentary were keen on getting a professional player to recreate Williams’ trademark swing and went to some lengths to find one.
Among their discoveries was that modern strength and conditioning has created a breed of modern baseball player whose body shape is very different to the likes of Williams, whose lean form was very much of his time - the forties and fifties.
Which of course had yours truly wondering about the hurlers whose swing makes them immediately identifiable.
The old notion that the fewer moving parts in your free-taking motion the better seems well and truly lost, with some marksmen adopting increasingly intricate lifting techniques,.You go back far enough and the classicists come into play. Jimmy Doyle’s striking style made such an impression on Christy Ring that even though the Corkman was almost two decades in senior hurling, he said he’d have to imitate the Tipperaryman’s beautiful follow-through with his own stroke.
One more recent candidate is Tony Browne, whose sweeping swing was identifiable two playing fields away; Tommy Dunne’s smooth wrist action was as singular as a fingerprint.
More contemporary models? Cian Lynch’s slightly forward tilt, with ball and stick well ahead of him, is particular and individual, while Mark Coleman’s vertical hold on the hurley is an unusual starting position before striking.
That US documentary, by the way, eventually seized upon a relatively obscure minor league player who could combine height and skinniness and unfurling power with the bat.
Interestingly, they didn’t need the player’s face to resemble Williams’s, because they had no plans to show his face.
In my own twisted mind it makes casting the inevitable hurling feature film all the easier when the time comes.
Educate yourself on the making of modern hurling
The post was particularly welcome this week, an early copy of The Hurlers by Paul Rouse, whose column will be familiar to readers of these pages.
The subtitle tells you everything - The First All-Ireland Championship and The Making of Modern Hurling — but the book’s a lot more than that.
It fleshes out the motivations and machinations of Michael Cusack in founding the GAA, and it gives the background to the revival of hurling in the 1880s in particular, not to mention interesting sideshows such as the significance of athletics at the time and the high incidence of cash prizes for the winners of various sports events, hurling games included.
(Significantly enough, the book also gives a brief sketch of the older forms of football which were the basis for Gaelic football, a topic to which I intend to return at some point.)
Paul was a terrific contributor to The Game, the recent hurling documentary on RTÉ, and his knack for combining knowledge of and enthusiasm for your pet subject - a far more difficult combination than might first appear - is as strong in print as it was on screen.
The Hurlers is published by Penguin Ireland and is in shops from September 6.
Could Dan be the man again for Waterford?
An aspect of hurling with a far less esoteric twist: what’s going on in Waterford with the senior manager’s job?
In Tipperary Michael Ryan stepped down recently but that was just a couple of weeks ago, and with the county in yesterday’s U21 All-Ireland final it’s understandable that its officials would see how that game panned out before settling to replacing Ryan.
Derek McGrath bowed out in mid-June with Waterford, however, and a couple of names have come and gone since then. Mattie Kenny of Galway and Cuala was the latest to be linked to the job.
The Waterford championship rolls on with no manager running the rule over those playing in it, which is hardly ideal.
I note that an old pal of this column, Dan Shanahan, banged in two goals for Lismore the other evening, in that championship, at the ripe old age of 41.
It may be too late for a recall to the front line, despite terrorising every club defence in the county, but it’s surprising that he hasn’t been linked to the managerial vacancy when he was on the sideline in an All-Ireland senior hurling final less than 12 months ago.
Even away from mass, it’s all about attendance
The Pope was in Croke Park over the weekend, providing the punchline for a million jokes (Q: Why is he going to Mayo afterwards? A: To intervene in the Carnacon row. Boom.) What’s interesting to me is whether it’d be acceptable now, the way it was in 1990, for an Irish international team to meet the Pope.
Back then it was part of the rich pageant of that year’s World Cup, when the country wasn’t thinking straight at all anyway but now it’d be a good deal more problematic, surely, to use the term that applies to situations recast in the light of 21st-century thinking.
The reason that came to mind, by the way, was the insistence on comparing the crowds welcoming the Pope’s progression through Dublin city centre with the crowds at the Dublin footballers’ victory celebration last year.
There’s a pun to be made here about people being tired with one side’s domination, but I’m too tired to make it.
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