Is it too easy to score now in inter-county hurling?

Hurling is a good game. A centre-back can catch a ball above his head in hurling and lump it over his shoulder. Imagine a centre-back in football catching it and kicking it as far as he could: he will be taken off.

Hurling is off-the-cuff. Look at the amount of scores in hurling, you won’t see that in football. It is very structured and about not giving the ball away.

There was little or nothing off-the-cuff about Galway’s dismantling of Offaly in the Leinster hurling semi-final in Portlaoise last weekend, but those words, uttered by Cork footballer and former hurler Eoin Cadogan a month ago, still seemed mighty relevant, as Micheál Donoghue’s side piled 33 points on the Faithful.

Cadogan’s take highlighted again the difference in perceptions between the GAA’s two chief codes: One of them can appear to do no wrong, the other goes about its business with a chip on its shoulder, insecure in the knowledge that fault will be found no matter how good it is or how much it scrambles for self-improvement.

Offaly knew what was coming in O’Moore Park.

They didn’t need telling that they were bringing a knife to a gunfight, so they tried setting up a barricade with two sweepers in front of the back six only to find it was ineffective.

Galway simply went over it, time and time again.

So, here’s the thing: Is it too easy to score now in inter-county hurling?

Team sports are only as good as the sum of their parts and the delicate eco-system that exists between them.

That environment suffers when any one species dominates. Gaelic football, soccer, and rugby have all suffered for the shift in power towards defences, but is the proliferation of scores in hurling really any more gratifying? Or healthy?

The game has certainly changed. Trawl back through the last 20 years of championship hurling (minus the preliminary rounds in Leinster and the back door for consistency of samples) and the gradual creep in scoring rates, even when looking at five-year intervals, is all too obvious.

In 1996, only six of the 14 games produced 30 or more points. Five years later and that ratio was the same and neither summer delivered a match with 40 points or more.

The 2006 version managed one of those, while 10 delivered 30-plus. That graph has risen, with 16 games last summer producing 14 with more than 30 points. Six of them topped 40.

We’re only halfway into our test sample for 2017, yet all eight games have cracked the 30-point marker, four peaking past 40, while Cork and Tipperary conspired to raise 53 white flags between them in Semple Stadium a month ago. None of which gets much in the way of mention in the day-to-day discourse surrounding the game of hurling.

Add in the two goals recorded in that Cork-Tipp Munster quarter-final and the tie produced a score every 75 seconds or so over the 70 minutes. Then take into account the fact that the sliotar is in play for roughly only half of the allotted time and what we had was a game where a score was registered once for every 37 seconds of action.

There’s a myriad of reasons for it. Players are bigger and stronger, sliotars are lighter.

Hurley’s are basically tailor-made for the game’s elite, who compete on surfaces that were only seen on village bowling greens back in the day.

Add in, too, changes in tactics and culture and you have a game where scores are claimed from inside a team’s own ‘65’ with almost a dull regularity.

Hurling is hardly alone in facing a combined assault from biology and technology.

When Uwe Hohn threw the javelin a world record 104.8m in 1984 it was the last straw for authorities who, concerned at the safety risks on the running track and in the crowd, introduced changes which reduced its flight, while swimming’s FINA outlawed high-tech body suits after 43 world records fell in one meet in Rome the year before.

Golf’s blazers have always kept an eye on advancements deemed potentially detrimental to the spirit, and act of playing, the game.

The R&A boasts committees with the sole purpose of ruling what equipment elite players can and cannot use, with the anchor putter the latest high-profile piece to fall foul of their deliberations.

Any appetite for similar changes, or even debate, is limited in hurling. So imperceptible to be near silent.

The Hurling 2020 Survey that was released two years ago found that only 14% of players feel the sliotar travels too far, so it remains to be seen how high the ceiling is when it comes to the volume of scores in a game and how soon it is before the game reaches it.

Alternatively, there may come a point before that when people come to feel you actually can have too much of a good thing.


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