The summer of the disappearing green flags

Wondering why Championship 2013 has been this strange, goal-free wilderness?

There’s no single overriding reason. Instead there’s a host of contributory factors. Try the following ones for size and add your own as you see fit.

Henry Shefflin: The greatest scorer of this age or any other. Twenty-seven championship goals to his name. Found the net at least once every season between 1999 and 2012. Deprived by injury from making anything more than a token impact in 2013. Half a Henry, fewer goals.

Lar Corbett: Not a great scorer but a great goalscorer. Twenty-six of them between 2001 and 2012. Three in one All Ireland final. Made it 27 in his only championship start in 2013 before an injured hamstring forced him off. Problem was, Tipperary made only two championship starts in 2013. Half a Lar, fewer goals.

Eddie Brennan: Another great goalscorer. Twenty-six championship goals, most of them bullets, between 2000 and 2011. Retired at the end of that season. Not around in 2013. No Eddie, fewer goals.

John Mullane: Averaged over 0-3 per game from play during his championship career and rattled in 17 championshipgoals between 2003 and 2012. Three of them in one Munster final. Retired at the end of last season. Not around in 2013. No Mullane, therefore fewer goals.

If this has been an inordinately entertaining championship it’s not because it was a goalfest. We may have had a string of hectic games, yet only a couple have been decided by green flags. By way of illustration, Pat Horgan’s mugging of Gary Maguire last month sealed rather than won the Cork/Dublin encounter. Of Kilkenny’s three wins, meanwhile, the extra-time victory against Waterford included, they were outgoaled by their opponents.

Three goals in the All Ireland semi-finals. Three in the quarter-finals. Five in four matches in Munster and none in that province’s final. Ten in the six matches involving Kilkenny, once the brand leaders when it came to lifting the opposition’s net out of it, but only two of those scored by a man in stripes and only one of the two sourced from play.

Has video killed the radio star? Have systems eradicated goals? Look at the way Clare set-up: a possession-based game and a spare man behind the centre-back. Or at Limerick, with three men across midfield and another three in the half-forward line. Rendering oneself difficult to break down is the foundation stone of the contemporary gameplan.

The plan worked for Clare in the All-Ireland semi-final. Limerick had one goal chance early on but Pat Donnellan, the spare defender, did his job and got back to snuff out Graeme Mulcahy. Clare managed a goal themselves but that was an unforeseen bonus, Darach Honan’s effort being the result of a Hail Mary delivery.

Like Clare, Cork are not a goal-scoring team and make no apologies for it. Take your point often enough and you won’t have to worry about the goals coming. That was the case when they won the All Ireland under Jimmy Barry-Murphy in 1999 (four games, one goal) and it’s been the case to date in 2013 (four games, one goal).

To Michael Duignan, the decline in the rate of goal-scoring is attributable to a number of developments. Opponents looking for a way of negating the aerial dominance of the Kilkenny half-back line. Cork’s preference for playing the ball down the channels to exploit the speed of their forwards, ‘which takes them away from goal’. Not forgetting the sheer mobility of the modern defender, Duignan adds. “They cover for each other so well. The days of a lad getting a ball 40 metres out and tearing through to score a goal are gone.”

You haven’t been the only one who’s noticed the lack of goals this summer, incidentally. Those gentlemen of the bookmaking fraternity who sleep with both eyes open have copped it too. Six weeks ago you’d have got 16/1 about the Cork/Kilkenny quarter-final finishing goalless. No goals on Sunday, in contrast, is 15/2.

The summer of the disappearing green flags. And everyone knows it.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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