As we head into the fourth weekend of Allianz Hurling League action, a pattern is beginning to emerge. More and more teams are playing the possession game of short stick-passing.
It begs the question — is hurling going forward? There are those who pine for the old days, the first-time pulling, the long aimless ball into forwards and all that. In my opinion, that game went out with the flood.
Look at the old games shown on TG4 these days. Look at the so-called skill levels. Yes, fellas were pulling, but how often were they hitting the ball? How often were they pulling simply for the sake of pulling?
Look at the hands of old hurlers now and you’ll see what I mean: broken fingers, many of them with claws where they used to have hands, with the fingers all bent and twisted.
Look even at the attempts at ground hurling. You hear fellas now in raptures over the goal scored by John Fenton with a ground pull from over 40 yards as if everyone was doing it — they were not. That was the exception, and very much the exception and fellas often took two or three efforts to even hit the ball.
People talk about the overhead hurling and again, they exaggerate. How many fellas were actually able to connect on the ball every time? And when they did, where was the ball going? Did they care? No they didn’t. ‘I’ll pull on it, God direct it!’ was the attitude.
I remember a time when a guy brought in the art of catching the ball in the middle of a forest of swinging hurleys and that was Babs Keating, and people were astonished. Now every fella is able to do it.
Look at sideline cuts. On nearly every team now is a player who can put the ball over the bar, some from even the 65m line. Was that the case going back 20, 30, 40 years? It was not. Some guys could do it, but one or two, maybe even three, on every team? I don’t think so.
Compare the defenders of those days with today’s. Look at that famous picture from a Kilkenny/Tipperary game, defenders with their hurley up against the back of the man they were marking, others swinging like madmen — what skill was there in that? Defenders nowadays are expected to be able to hurl, to have the skill of any forward.
Look at the conditioning of players. I know that in former days fellas were naturally stronger because of the active lifestyles they led but look at the body shape of players today, look at their body-fat levels, their speed, stamina and strength.
Not alone has hurling progressed, in my opinion it has progressed to a level where it’s now almost a new sport. In the days so many people pine for, as often as not the skilful player was only a target, someone to be taken out of the game at the earliest opportunity. Now, nearly every player is skilful and even at club level it’s become much faster, much more tactical.
One area though where the modern game could be improved, I believe, is in man-marking. There is less and less marking now and I’m wondering, how far off is the 50-point game? Because it’s coming, all this movement of forwards and no-one following. How many points are we seeing scored now where the player shooting is on his own, no-one within 20 yards?
That’s one area where it was better years ago, but then again, fellas weren’t as fit.
Anyway, to this weekend. The biggest game is in Ennis. Kilkenny were there for the taking last Sunday, Clare have had great wins over Galway and Cork — they can add another scalp here.
Waterford in Waterford will be strong and should have beaten Kilkenny last week, but Tipperary are hitting stride. I think the Premier County will win here.
Division 1B, huge game for Offaly against Limerick but I fancy Limerick. Dublin can just see off Wexford while Carlow can take Antrim.
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