Cregan laments demise of ground skills
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.
“Our hurling pick is too small. We basically may be picking from 30 players, whereas Kilkenny are picking from 40, 50, 60 players.”
In the past decade, Limerick have suffered the major disappointment of failing to turn three Under-21 All-Irelands into even a provincial title at senior level. The recent revival since the players’ strike in 2010 has raised morale again and if Cregan wasn’t fond of Donal O’Grady’s short passing and support tactics he believes there has been a modification under John Allen. “We’ve had a number of styles of play. Donal O’Grady’s style of play came in there two years ago, I don’t like it. Having played corner-forward I can’t bear to see the ball going backwards and forwards across the field like that.
“A forward wants the ball to come in fast and low and at an angle and here you are and you’re wondering, when the hell is the ball going to come in?
“Effective, intelligent ball coming in is far better than hand passing, hand passing, hand passing. John has come back a little bit off that and has brought a little bit more directness to the game.”
Leinster Under-21: Football championship
It’s three days since both of the All-Ireland club champions lost their titles on Saturday. With less fanfare, another of 2012’s champions could go the same way this evening in Parnell Park, as under-21 football champions Dublin open the defence of their provincial and national titles.
With two the last three All-Irelands at the grade as well as last year’s minor title – three of whom have already played senior this year – and the previous year’s finalists, Dessie Farrell has a strong hand to choose from after taking over from now senior manager Jim Gavin even if the panel only had their first full get-together last week. They are hot favourites to see off Carlow.
Also in action this evening are last year’s Leinster finalists Louth, who face Meath in Navan. The latter have had some success in minor in recent years, reaching last September’s All-Ireland final, although there hasn’t been any major fast tracking of that cohort.
Offaly go to Portlaoise hoping to extend the hosts’ poor record in the competition and with the bulk of last year’s panellists they should do so.