The end of hurling, or the end of the end of hurling? When you have well-known players like Ken McGrath tweeting that they’re glad to have played when they did then you suspect that something is amiss in the game.
For this observer the issue is not tactical stalemate or the attractiveness of the game. The tactical battles being seen now on the hurling field are decades overdue thanks to a couple of significant victories -— that Cork-Galway All-Ireland final in 1986, a prime example — and the slavish adherence to the 1-3-3-2-3-3 formation for almost a century.
The traditional view of hurling tactics leaned heavily on a couple of notions that were eventually interrogated out of existence: that you couldn’t strategise in a game where the ball could travel back and forth huge distances in short time frames, and that the premium on skill — defensively, individually— meant dawdling on the ball was an invitation to having the sliotar flicked out of your hand legitimately, or blasted out of your hand, illegitimately. Neither option was inviting.
When you added in the equally traditional championship structure for so many years, you had a straight knock-out system which prioritised scoring heavily in a once-off situation. This favoured naturally skilful hurlers who could improvise goals in particular, and suppressed tactical innovation.
Why the latter? Because if you were getting only one or two games per year to test your strategies in the ultimate laboratory conditions, championship hurling, then your chances of fine-tuning any of those strategies had to be sacrificed in favour of containing the game being played by your opponents, while your own players had come up through a cultural playing system which privileged their opponents’ approach. That is, one hundred and fifty miles an hour, moving the ball as fast as you could to the strike players in the inside line.
As a result, the introduction of the back door system immediately offered teams a chance to work on their shape because it removed the mindset that the world ended at half five on a summer Sunday if you lost your first championship game.
An increased media focus helped, too. No, wait. After decades in which league games in particular existed in a curious netherworld which only came to the attention of local outlets for the most part, an explosion in media interest - radio, television, print, online, social media - means that few games if any fly under the radar.
That disseminates ideas, opinions, values and - crucially - different approaches to the game.
Examples? A couple of the columnists in this parish introduced notable tactical developments over a decade ago which were parsed, pored over and perused ad nauseam; would that have happened in the same detail even 20 years earlier?
At last weekend’s league final throw-in there were, by my reckoning, maybe four players on each team in their ‘correct’ position.
A common mistake is that people are conflating the inevitable breakdowns in the systems on show with inherent problems with those tactics. Clearly Derek McGrath and Davy Fitzgerald don’t want their best forwards, Shane Bennett and Conor McGrath last Sunday week, picking each other up between the 65s, but that happened.
The old ‘three full-backs on three full-forwards etc’ alignment broke down plenty of times, leaving a defender on his own to clear the ball or a forward loose on the edge of the square. That didn’t mean people viewed fifteen-on-fifteen as unfit for purpose.
Finally, don’t forget one simple fact. If you have the patience there’ll be a tactical development in hurling along any minute now, a different approach to replace today’s. It’s just that we haven’t been used to them coming along too often.
Your columnist doesn’t pretend to be an expert on economic matters but there does seem to be something rumbling along in the back of everybody’s consciousness that nobody seems willing to examine.
What does a possible Brexit mean for sport, particularly sporting competitions that transcend national boundaries? I’m thinking in particular of the Champions Cup in rugby, a tournament which features English and Scottish sides along with our own teams and those from mainland Europe.
Is there an issue in terms of players’ freedom of movement and so forth if there are essentially two different legal jurisdictions involved? One for the new Minister for Sport.
Interesting news from the US - St Vincent’s GAA club of Dublin are to have a fundraising dinner in New York next month. This follows on from several counties’ successful harvesting of funds in the Big Apple, most notably Kerry last year.
How does this sit with the indigenous GAA population?, There was a lot of encouraging noises when New York took Roscommon to the brink the week before last, but wouldn’t those New York players benefit from better resources and facilities too?
Is there an argument that more funding poured into their preparations might have been the grain of rice to tip the scales against Roscommon?
The great man was 90 yesterday — David Attenborough, beloved of TV viewers for decades. You remember the nature programmes well, but one of your top TV sports highlights also owes a lot to Attenborough.
In 1965 he was charged with making a success of a new TV channel across the water - BBC 2 - and in the late sixties colour television opened up new horizons.
However, they didn’t have many cameras with colour capability.
In his memoir Attenborough wrote: “It was camera shortage that attracted me to the suggestion from the Sports Department that, now colour was here, we might televise snooker.
“They pointed out that with all the action concentrated on a small table, a whole game could be fully covered with only three cameras.”
(Emphasis on the ‘could’ there, of course).
Attenborough’s engineers suggested creating a knock-out competition with a low number of frames per match which could be run off in a few days. The result?
Pot Black, which became a runaway success.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved