Antrim hurling boss Jerry Wallace has called on the Cork County Board to change refereeing practices within the county to prepare players for the inter-county game.
Speaking in the wake of Kilkenny’s 14-point win over Cork in Sunday’s Allianz HL Division 1A final, Cork native Wallace said club games on Leeside were not physical enough to ready players for facing the likes of Kilkenny.
“Without being critical of anyone,” said Wallace, “one observation I’ve made in training teams in Kerry and at the inter-county level with Antrim, Limerick and Cork over the last 10 years is that club players in other counties take more hits — the play is more physical than you see in Cork.
“I was at a junior game recently in Cork and one player hit 1-6 from frees and another 0-9 from frees, and I thought ‘that can’t be good for Cork hurling’.”
Wallace called on Cork GAA chiefs to be proactive in dealing with the matter. “The Cork Board should look at issuing a directive to let the play go, say on a trial basis in the senior hurling leagues. Referees should be told to give players more leeway when it comes to physicality in the game and not to blow small or technical issues.
“When you look at the Examiner reports it’d be better for inter-county team if three or four fellas were getting 0-2 each from play rather than fellas getting 1-4 or 1-5 from frees.
“It’s clear from last Sunday club competition in Cork is not preparing players for inter-county games against Kilkenny, in particular.”
Wallace instanced a Kilkenny native now playing in Cork as further proof of the difference in refereeing styles between the two counties.
“This Kilkenny player, playing in Cork for several years, said to me: ‘the referees seem to blow for everything here’. That comment is the kernel of the issue for me. The referees may say I’m having a cut off them, but I’m not; I just want to see what can be done to improve hurling in Cork.”
Wallace, who has trained Ballyduff to senior hurling titles in Kerry as well as training Cork and Limerick, pointed out that the Kilkenny senior team prepare specifically for physical encounters: “I’ve seen Kilkenny train and they seem to play a lot of A versus B matches to condition players rather than doing a lot of drills.
“You can count the number of frees awarded at those training sessions on one hand, but what’s more important to me is the culture of the team when it comes to those frees being awarded.
“I was at one session when two frees were awarded, but Henry Shefflin, who was playing, didn’t come out to take them. The player who won the free did, but appeared to put them well wide on both occasions; that suggests to me there’s no kudos for winning that kind of free compared to getting a score from play or doing something else in open play. Everyone knows if Henry’s fit he takes the frees for Kilkenny, but presumably Brian Cody gets him to do his free-taking practice down in Ballyhale because if he’s in Nowlan Park for Kilkenny training he’s there to play a game.”
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