Offaly great Michael Duignan has revealed his deep frustration with the state of hurling, claiming that the most talented players are being straight-jacketed by defensive tactics.
The two-time All-Ireland medalist said that short puck-outs, continuous hand-passing and the deployment of sweepers in defence are suffocating the game and, in his opinion, needless.
Duignan said he’s also frustrated that anyone who is critical of these developments in the game are labelled ‘old-fashioned’ and not capable of ‘understanding the game’.
“With all due respects, I’m around the game all my life, I think I understand it,” said Duignan.
“I just think with sweepers, how do you expect at the end of the day to win? I understand why Waterford did it for a while because they’d been hammered below in Cork a few years ago in the Munster final and Derek McGrath came in and he’s very bright and he said, ‘look, we have to stop getting hammered, we have to build from here’.
“But I think they’ll move on from it. They have a lot of very good players that can really hurl and can hurl their man on their own. I think they’ll evolve.
“It’s just something coming into the game that, to me, doesn’t make any sense because it’s a very spontaneous game. Only one team can win the game anyway, so you might as well lose playing the game as losing by tipping the ball around your full-back line.
“Maybe there’s something wrong with the way I look at it but when you see Tony Kelly, to me, maybe the most complete hurler in the game, well one of them anyway, TJ (Reid) is probably a step ahead of them all still, but he’s up there in a brilliant era for hurlers.
“If these lads weren’t able to hurl you’d say, ‘we’re playing this way because we don’t have the players’. But these are incredible players. When you see Conor McGrath being taken off with 15 or 20 minutes to go, one of the best forwards I’ve seen. And Tony Kelly taking puck-outs from his goalie and they four points down against Waterford. That doesn’t make any sense to me.
“It’s just a control thing from management teams over great players. They’re not allowed think for themselves now on the field or do anything off the field.”
Duignan revealed his fears for the game generally and noted the increasing commitments being foisted upon top players.
“Where are we going with the game? And how are we allowing it to happen? What Joe Brolly has said in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been saying that for a long time. He used the word last Sunday in the paper that players are ‘commodities’. I used it a couple of weeks before that. I really feel that.
“Players might feel themselves that it’s all fine, especially in the top counties, because they’re getting so well looked after. But look what’s expected of them. How does it make sense to have players training 25 times in a month from a sports science point of view or from any point of view?
“You hear stories of players asking for a night off from training because of work commitments and that being held against them. It’s happening all over the country. That’s madness.”
Duignan’s native Offaly face Galway in a Leinster semi-final on Sunday and are long odds outsiders to progress to a decider date with Kilkenny. The Faithful County’s fortunes have dipped in recent seasons with a 14-point defeat to Westmeath just last month, the same Westmeath team that Galway beat by 17 more recently.
“It’s a bit depressing for someone who was involved in All-Ireland wins in the 1990s but at the same time there’s an ambition there to try and get back. This is our last chance saloon because if we slip any further back we’re in big, big trouble. I don’t think we can get back out of it. This conversation is going on 10 or 12 years now. It’s going on since 2002, 2003 and it’s getting a little bit repetitive, it’s time for action.”
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