What Butler saw was vastly improved standard of hurling
Former national co-ordinator supports status quo and says ‘it’s best to earn your way up’
Paudie Butler: “It’s a lovely time for hurling at the moment in all the counties.” Photograph: Inpho.
One of the best-known authorities on hurling development and coaching has backed last weekend’s Central Council decision on the future of the hurling league. Paudie Butler is a national GAA coach and tutor and former National Hurling co-ordinator as well as an All-Ireland minor winning manager with his county, Tipperary.
He supports the retention of the chosen format until 2016, as he thinks the various formats have created uncertainty in recent years. In relation to Carlow and Westmeath, whereas Butler has sympathy for the counties’ ambitions to play in the top division he also feels that progress has to be earned.
“It’s like Tony Considine was saying: everybody has to win their way up. There have been too many changes over the last eight or nine years. That rate of change isn’t helping anyone in the long run. Stability for a few years would be a good idea.
“You want standards to rise but you’d hate anyone in Carlow to think that the system’s pulling against them because the system is neutral. Carlow are on a rise – anyone who saw the Mount Leinster Rangers result will know that – and Westmeath aren’t far behind them but it’s best to earn your way up.”
Butler’s experience of senior inter-county management 10 years ago gives him an insight into the issues facing developing counties when playing in the league.
“I was with Laois when they struggled in their division and got five or six beatings. The memory of those hammerings does no good for that year or the next year.”
Enjoying a boom
He says that the game is currently enjoying a boom after a championship season described by many as perhaps the best in living memory and not just at the elite senior level.
“It’s a lovely time for hurling at the moment in all of the counties even when you go to the Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard – there’s buoyancy there as well with better games and rivalry. Kerry and Down had great contests this year and Donegal have won two divisions in the past couple of years – phenomenal, almost unthinkable.
“Look back even a few years and you can see the quality of the hurling is vastly superior. Every 10 years there’s a massive go-forward technically and while physical isn’t being mentioned now, it’s also been well honed.
“Clare this year were very, very fit for hurling in their agility and their movement and not needing big, brawny players, which is great in an amateur game. They can hold their own body size and still get themselves into a really good place.”
Butler believes that there has been a paradigm shift in the game this year, which is natural evolution but also welcome because the game moved away from the gladiatorial contests that characterised recent championships.
“That’s the thing about hurling. It should be about agility and skill; it shouldn’t necessarily be a physical contest and I hope it never goes that way. Every few years the emphasis shifts this way and that way but I think this year was a really good year for that.
“You had a light, mobile Cork team playing a light, mobile Clare team so you have an evolution in hurling and it’s brilliant. There’s no flash-in-the-pan; there’ll be evolution and somebody will take it in another direction in another few years but at the moment the hurling is great.”
Three years ago, he paid this tribute to the Kilkenny team that has won six of the nine most recent All-Irelands.
“I would say that Kilkenny are hurling at the highest level that’s ever been hurled. In the past three years they’ve performed at a higher level of technical and physical hurling than was ever played in anyone’s lifetime.”
Changing of guard
He says now that this year’s changing of the guard is simply the latest development in the game.
“What Kilkenny did was phenomenal. They brought hurling to the next level, a level that nobody had even thought about but now others are seeing that there’s another way of taking it as well. There’s no doubt about it. Hurling is an art form when played at its very best and the different artists will take it their own way just as Tony Kelly and Podge Collins took it their way.”