AT the end of the last Super 11 hurling game in Boston, a woman ran down to the front of the stand in Fenway Park and called Donal O’Grady over.
“I was in official gear,” he says, “so she knew I had something to do with the game.
“When I went over, she was in tears. ‘Thank you for bringing the game to us,’ she said. She’d been over 30 years in Boston and said we couldn’t know what it meant to the Irish out there.
“Both teams that played that day, in 2015, Dublin and Galway, deserve the highest praise. They served up a real, full-blooded, championship-style physical contest; no quarter was asked or given. There was huge commitment shown by the two panels and this left a huge impression on those present.”
The former Cork hurling manager explains Super 11s ahead of this weekend’s games between Clare, Dublin, Galway, and Tipperary, in Boston.
“It’s a shortened version of hurling, if you like, tailor-made for smaller pitches, 100 metres long — like a soccer pitch — and for the USA, Australia, Asia, and the Middle East, where Irish emigrants have a presence and where full-sized GAA pitches aren’t available. It’s not really for Ireland, although it could catch on as a format to be used in training sessions.
“When the audience tunes into TG4 Sunday, they’ll see it’s a form of hurling based on possession, with different rules. Of course, it’s still at a developmental stage.
“Test cricket was a game that could last for five days, with little action, at times. So, T20, with specific rules to aid batting, was introduced, and that has a huge following now, worldwide. It wasn’t seen as a replacement for test matches, but skills developed in T20 are now being used in the Test arena.
“Super 11s is only around since 2013. It’s still in the early stages, but it was a huge hit in Boston a couple of years ago, and in Notre Dame College, in Indiana, before that. It was very popular on television, through NESN, as well. TG4 carries it, obviously, but, in the States, it’s broadcast to an audience of millions.”
That’s the background. What will viewers notice that’s different?
“It’s eleven-a-side, with rolling substitutions, with very little stoppages.The emphasis is on keeping the action going. That’s the spirit of the game, to keep it moving — if you delay, that’s a free against you, straightaway.
“If you’re fouled, you can play on and the opponent must back off and allow you four metres, before tackling you again.
“Effectively, there’s no advantage to fouling: in 15-a-side, sometimes you see teams fouling as a tactic. They commit fouls in the other half-back-line and avail of the delay to funnel back and organise their defence with extra bodies.
“The 65 is taken like a hockey short corner, with the attacker getting only two touches to score, while the penalty is the same now as in hurling.
“The current penalty rule came directly from Super 11s, so it has already influenced hurling, as such.
“Also, a handpass must be followed by a stick pass, and the ball must not be kicked intentionally.
“In hurling, the clash ball is a shambles. It gives rise to rucks, because the players know that the ball will not move from the immediate area and swarm around the ‘throw-in’ in an attempt to gain possession.
“Players just ignore the rule and the referee is unable to enforce it. This is the one rule that needs to be changed in hurling and Super 11s could be used to trial a format where the ball would be moved quickly from the throw-in area.
“There are no points, only goals, and because soccer goals are wider, there’s more excitement.
“The goalkeepers made great saves the last time, in Boston — their shot-stopping and general skills really impressed the fans.
“In terms of scoring, there’s three points for a goal scored inside the 20-metre line, and five points for a goal from outside — not unlike the basketball three-point line.”
A TMO or television match official is in operation, as well.
“I know that the GAA have resisted this, citing the delays on the tryline in rugby as a reason.This argument doesn’t hold water, as hurling is completely different.
“A ref might want to see if some player caught the ball three times on his way to scoring a match-defining goal. If it happened on the blind side of the referee and he couldn’t see it clearly, why wouldn’t you use the technology? All players want is justice, at the end of the day.
“Obviously, it would only be used for game-defining scoring decisions and red cards, and at the discretion of the referee, so the ref would always be in charge.
“The TMO is already in use with Hawkeye. So, why not extend it to help the ref make the correct call on big decisions?”
Fenway Park is an iconic American sports venue, but hurling has found a home there in the past, as well.
“It’s a fantastic venue. One couldn’t but be aware of the fantastic atmosphere created by the 28,000 fans present in 2015 and it is hoped that it will hit 30,000 this weekend, close to the venue’s capacity.
“On Sunday, Super 11s is showcasing some of the best of hurling talent. However, there are certain skills which have virtually disappeared in hurling — first-time ground hurling, overhead striking, and pulling first-time between opponents, or the famous clash of the ash, are no longer visible in the game.
“Maybe there could be a role for Super 11s, to re-ignite these skills and so preserve the traditional skills of the game, skills which have thrilled spectators down through previous generations.”
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