Cregan says hurling skills on the wane

A former Limerick great has voiced his concern about thedirection hurling is taking, writes John Fogarty

Limerick legend Eamon Cregan leads MaryImmaculate College in this afternoon’s Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final against Dublin IT and is thrilled by the pace of the sport butbelieves core skills have been made redundant.

He bemoans the constant “scrums” in the games,claiming a regular college game in poor conditions can feature 10 or 12 instances where the referee has to restart the action with a throw-in because of players failing to lift the ball.

The recent inductee to the GAA Hall of Fame also feels there are too many pointsbeing scored in games and not enough ground hurling being played.

“The perception of marking players seems to have gone out the window,” said Cregan. “That, to me, would be abasic format of any game of hurling that you must be able to defend and must know where your players are.

“The speed of the game has increased enormously so therefore there is no space. We have lost some of the skills like ground hurling.

“Some of the best goals last year were scored off the ground and people were looking in awe at it but they were part and parcel of our game.

“Hooking, blocking... the batting seems to have gone out of it as well. To me, it’s tremendously exciting but the thing I worry about is the amount of points that are scored — 22, 23, 24, 25 points. That, to me, means there is somebody not doing their job. The game certainly has changed.”

Cregan believes ground hurling is an ideal way ofpreventing the bunching up which now blights some games.

“You know this hurling scrum that I call it, I think that’s obnoxious. I hate it. There’s a ball there andeverybody wants to go down and rise the ball and put it in their hand and burst their way out. All you have to do is just flick the ball into open space and the game goes on again.

“Instead of the ball being thrown in along the ground you throw it up in the air. Give it a go because this thing is terrible.”

The 1994 All-Ireland winning manager with Offaly also feels a heavy sliotar couldimprove the game as “centre-field play is practically gone out of it because the ball is going over their heads”.

As John Allen’s Limerick embark on their promotion drive from Division 1B at home to Antrim next Sunday, Cregan is careful not to place too much store in them even if it is a promising side.

“You see, unfortunately, when Limerick do well,everybody suddenly says,‘Jaysus, we have an All-Ireland on our hands’.

“You have to come down from that high and you’ve got to hold you head and keep your feet firmly on the ground, and you’ve got to work at what you’re doing.

“We have this tendency to get carried away. Our hurling pick is too small. We basically may be picking from 30 players, whereas Kilkenny are picking from 40, 50, 60 players. Cork are something similar. It’ll take time and doing the proper ways of coaching and so forth will help us along the road but there’s no guarantee that what we’re doing is going to work.”

However, Cregan has complimented Limerick manager John Allen on departing slightly from Donal O’Grady’s style in 2011.

“Donal O’Grady’s style of play came in there about three years ago. Personally, I don’t like it. Having played corner-forward, I can’t bear to see the ball going backwards and forwards across the field like that.

“A forward wants the ball to come in fast and low and at an angle and here you’re wondering when the hell is the ball going to come in. So therefore you’re nullifying the forwards straight away by a slow ball.

“I’m one of those people who believe in a fast ball.Effective, intelligent ballcoming in is far better than hand-passing, hand-passing, hand-passing.

“John has come back a little bit off that and has brought a little bit more directness to the game.”

A critic of the Limerick team’s off-the-field discipline during the ’00s, he accepts there has been an improvement.

But he warned: “If they don’t want to behave then go away and let someone else come in and take his place, who wants to be on theLimerick team.”

As much as he is a doubting Thomas about the senior team, four Harty Cup teams and possibly another one next year give reason for Cregan to be optimistic about Limerick’s future. He’s also enthusedby the new format to the county’s senior championship structure, which reduces the teams from 16 to 12.

“We’ve had 16 senior teams in Limerick and I would say only four or five are what I would call senior teams that could compete against other counties.”

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