Cregan laments demise of ground skills
Limerick hurling legend Eamon Cregan after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the GAA Museum at Croke Park last week. photograph: cathal noonan/inpho
If last week’s induction into the GAA’s Hall of Fame might to some have indicated a time for retrospection, Eamonn Cregan remains focused on the here and now. The same week as he was honoured for his hurling career, the Limerick All-Ireland winner was steering Mary Immaculate College of Education into a first Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final, which takes place this afternoon against DIT.
Having first made national headlines nearly 50 years ago as a schoolboy phenomenon, Cregan has plenty of material on which to base comparisons.
“The speed of the game has increased enormously,” he says, “so therefore there is no space. We have lost some of the skills like ground hurling. Some of the best goals last year were scored off the ground and people were looking in awe at it but they were part and parcel of our game. Hooking, blocking . . . the batting seems to have gone out of it as well. To me, it’s tremendously exciting but the thing I worry about is the amount of points that are scored – 22, 23, 24, 25 points. That, to me, means there is somebody not doing their job. The game has certainly changed.”
Even though he was the manager who harnessed the talents of a gifted Offaly team to win the 1994 All-Ireland in dazzling, ball-playing style he’s reluctant to be too prescriptive about the game. “Ground hurling has a part to play. It’s not the be-all and end-all but there are times when you need to let the ball go on the ground. You know this hurling scrum I call it . . . I hate it. There’s a ball there and everybody wants to go down and rise the ball and put it in their hand and burst their way out. All you have to do is just flick the ball into open space and the game goes on again.
“Was it Jimmy Denton that made the suggestion instead of the ball being thrown in along the ground you throw it up in the air? Give it a go because this thing is terrible. Take the Fitzgibbon at the moment, you’re playing in bad conditions – you could have 10 or 12 scrums.”
His own county appears to be on an upward curve even if they start this weekend’s AHL opener against Antrim in Division One B. Competitive in last year’s Munster championship and the All-Ireland quarter-final against eventual champions Kilkenny, Limerick still need to maintain perspective, he says.
“You see, unfortunately, when Limerick do well, everybody suddenly says, ‘Jaysus, we have an All-Ireland on our hands’. You have to come down from that high and you’ve got to keep your feet firmly on the ground. You’ve got to work at what you’re doing. We have this tendency to get carried away.