Let’s get physical.
Once upon a time that was an integral component of hurling as a spectacle, all those near-mythical heroes going shoulder-to-shoulder in near-mortal combat.
Well, says Galway hurling manager Anthony Cunningham as he prepares his side for Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final with Cork, physicality in hurling is back, and welcome.
“Very much so. I’ve heard some of the media and commentators saying it’s because a lot of guys are wearing helmets,” he said.
“They plough away. They’re not afraid of the tackles. I think it was always strong but I think the way fitness levels have gone in the last number of years hurling has caught up with football and has brought in a lot of strength.
“To be a hurler now you have to be very fast. There are hits and speed. When you’re going a lot faster and have a bit of strength the laws of physics say that’s better than a big fella going slow.”
A witness to that power was Limerick’s Wayne McNamara’s perfectly legitimate hit on Kilkenny’s Richie Power in their recent All-Ireland quarter-final meeting, a collision that ended with a groggy Richie being removed to hospital.
“A solid hit really, but that’s the way the games have gone,” says Anthony, whose Galway side similarly hit Kilkenny in the Leinster final.
“The big plus for hurling though is that the nastiness isn’t there. It’s a fantastic spectacle and a brilliant product. Long may it continue.”
Going back to the old style then, in one sense, but hurling is also evolving, styles changing as team managers try to outflank each other.
“We’ve had Kilkenny for the last 10 years. Cork used a short hand-passing game to great effect, got by Kilkenny. Then Tipperary came along two or three years later and used a lot of stick passes, evolved the Cork play.
“It’s the way the game has gone and it’s evolving every two or three years. We’ve taken pieces from the football side and the tackle count is gone way, way high; the play is allowed to develop into a lot of tackling and if you delay with the ball in the tackle you are blown up, it’s a free against you.
“These are examples of new traits that have come into the game. You have to learn, bring something new to the table every day you go out.”
What both Galway and Cork will bring to this Sunday’s game, reckons Anthony, is an attack-orientated game.
“We know that Cork always play open hurling and will take the fight to you. They’re extremely talented. Look at their young players, Luke O’Farrell, Darren Sweetnam, Jamie Coughlan. They’re top drawer and would get on any county team. They are an up-and-coming team, very similar to themselves in that they are developing. We feel we’ve made a lot of good progress that will stand to us in good stead over the next few years.”
Might stand to them in good stead even before that.
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