MIKE QUIRKE: Hurling can’t be Gaelic football's barometer

Watching the All-Ireland hurling final has only solidified a strange season for followers of Gaelic football.

It is like we’ve spent the summer looking over the hedge, coveting our neighbour’s wife.

Even average hurling games, like last Sunday, which looked like turning into a one-sided Limerick rout, can turn epic in the final 10 minutes and leave you wanting the game to continue for another day.

I’ve been battling against the waves for a few years now, trying to talk up football.

Too many of our influencers are constantly searching for the negative or controversial rather than over the positive aspects of any match or season.

They’d wear you down, with their barrage of belly-aching about the state of the game.

The key is to cut off the oxygen that feeds the fire. Unfortunately, for much of this year’s football championship, they have been given a plentiful supply of fuel to fan the flames of discontent as high as we have ever seen them.

The brilliance of hurling has only exacerbated the problem and has shone a bright light on the deficiencies of the big-ball game.

The GAA has been a house divided all summer.

There will always be fundamental bonds that join Gaelic football and hurling.

They were once a close family; brothers born on the same day, with the same lineage and DNA.

They grew up together under the same roof and, eventually, one became more popular than the other.

He wasn’t necessarily the better-looking or smarter of the brothers, but he was easy-going and people loved to kick ball with him.

The other brother was a bit more work. He was the kind of guy that if you weren’t his friend in national school, then he wasn’t really the type to become tight with you later in life. You had to put in the effort early on to earn his trust.

Right now, it feels like the siblings have grown apart. Gaelic football and hurling have become more like cousins than brothers.

They still share certain personality traits, but their relationship isn’t near as compatible as in generations past.

One game is played by much fewer counties, and is fast, fierce, and unpredictable. The other has turned cautious and slow. They’re about as similar as Twister and draughts.

Hurling has a tiered championship structure, which regularly pits teams of even enough ability against each other, and mismatches are a rarity. Football clings to an open-border policy that gives everybody who wants one a shot at the title.

In one game, players can launch the ball 100 yards or more, while the other maxes out at about half that distance.

In truth, the two sports are nothing alike. Neither in terms of structure nor gameplay.

Yet, for some reason, we continue to pit them against each other. I suppose it’s natural to try and give context to how good something is by measuring it against something else, but hurling can’t be Gaelic football’s barometer.

Any comparison would only leave Gaelic football with an inferiority complex, after Sunday’s showpiece capped off an incredible hurling championship, against the backdrop of a football competition that could only be described as mediocre at best. But football is far from alone in that regard. Tell me another ball sport that is comparable to hurling, right now?

For years, the Irish international soccer and rugby teams were viewed in much the same way. Rugby always seemed the more honourable. Hurlers got paid considerably less for doing a job that looked considerably tougher.

Rugby is a game that even the uninitiated can appreciate for the bravery and honesty of effort.

It is constant physicality, with big hits and collisions and two teams attacking each other for 80, frantic minutes.

The sport gives life to the notion of putting your body on the line for the good of the team.

It can be a good spectacle, even better on TV, and it is so easy to get sucked into the gladiatorial spirit of the battle.

Soccer, on the other hand, can be more like painting by numbers. When the opposition has the ball, they can keep it, knock it about, and make the other team work to try to get it back. Some mild contact on the shoulder can send a grown man hurtling to the turf, writhing in apparent agony, holding his face, or any other body part. There can be a falseness to it.

Despite the dedication and abilities which are required to make it to the elite level of soccer, it can be difficult to appreciate what they do. Ninety minutes of any sport that can finish 0-0 can be a tough sell for anybody looking for an adrenaline fix.

In this season of championship Sundays, hurling has taken on some of those rugby characteristics for the supporters — obviously with a heavy infusion of pace and skill, with Gaelic football taking on too much of what bad soccer can look like. But it will not always be that way.

Hurling was dominated in the last decade by Kilkenny, in the same way Dublin have owned Gaelic football in this one.

It was too predictable, too inevitable.

There was a certain monotony to watching the brilliance of the Cats march up the mountain each September to collect their prize.

Eventually, however, the landscape changed. Other teams emerged from the valleys and have made hurling into the hugely exciting and entertaining product we witnessed again this summer, with so many teams genuinely contending for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Football will get back there, too.

Dublin’s dominance will eventually wane, the competition will rise up, and Gaelic football will start to figure out the best version of itself again.

But we need to stop comparing who is the better cousin, after every single match.

We should focus on starting to enjoy both games for what they are, instead of what they are not.


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