GAA weekend that was: Has hurling fully endorsed floodlights?
Passages of Saturday’s draw between Kilkenny and Tipp were hurling at its best
Referee James Owens during the match between Tipperary and Kilkenny at Semple Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
It was probably the 2013 All-Ireland replay between Clare and Cork that brought home the full benefit of floodlights for hurling matches even though the first serious competitive fixture under lights took place nine years previously.
Again on Saturday night last the effervescent league fixture between 2016 All-Ireland finalists Tipperary and Kilkenny came with added atmosphere in a floodlit - and unseasonably mild - Semple Stadium.
Yet there is a sense that hurling hasn’t fully endorsed the use of floodlights. Tipp manager Michael Ryan is on the record as preferring to have as few evening matches as possible - this year his team had two, as opposed to the more accustomed single outing.
At the weekend he was asked did lights make striking harder and he replied: “I think it does, also the flight of the ball makes it that more difficult to players but look they don’t complain. I’m not a fan. It’s fair for both sides though. If you get blind-sided, you can be sure the guy you’re marking is a little blind-sided too.”
His Kilkenny counterpart Brian Cody considers it a kind of ethical breach to reference any influences beyond what happened on the pitch but his view was still clear enough.
“Maybe for supporters [IT WORKS]but I’d say players would prefer for it not to be played under lights because it’s not something they do. To be honest, I didn’t even realise what time of day it was and I mean that because the game is on, everybody got stuck into it and I don’t think it’s about the lights, it was about the game.”
The first time lights were used in league or championship was in March 2003 when Cork beat Wexford 2-13 to 0-9 at Páirc Uí Rinn on 1st March 2004. Neither manager on that occasion raised any quibbles.
“Wexford have played a couple of matches under lights and so have we and the feedback from the players is that it makes no difference,” said then Cork manager Dónal O’Grady.
“None at all,” echoed Wexford’s John Conran. “I think it’s a great facility to be able to have lights and be able to play out there. It had absolutely nothing to do with how we played.”
Cork were also the first league guests when Semple Stadium turned on its lights in 2009 but unfortunately for all concerned Cork were in the middle of a players’ strike so the match ended up as a damp squib.
There was further controversy a year later when a refixture of that season’s Tipperary-Kilkenny league match had to be called off as had the original fixture because of snow. The second attempt had been due to take place midweek under lights but eventually the match was played on a Sunday afternoon later in the season.
On a historical note, Tipperary played an exhibition match under lights in the then newly built Seals Stadium in San Francisco back in October 1930 when 10,000 watched them defeat a California selection by 11 points at the end of a year in which they had set a notable first by winning all of the then available All-Irelands, senior, minor and junior.
A game for the Gods
There is an old yarn about a priest bringing an American guest to a Munster hurling championship match during which a passage of play saw the ball struck up and down the field through increasingly ferocious challenges ending with someone (probably Christy Ring) scoring a point.
“Father, this is truly a game for the Gods,” said the impressed visitor. The phrase otherwise is used by the GAA historian Séamus Ó Ceallaigh came to mind during Saturday’s match in Thurles.
A passage of play that started at 58:44 on the clock as Tipperary goalkeeper Darragh Mooney pucked out after a wide from Colin Fennelly ran for three minutes and 24 seconds without stoppage.
There were more than 50 individual touches, from catches, passes, strikes of the hurl, hooks, blocks and even a save. On an alternating basis, 12 times the ball passed into attack - crossing the 65 - before Ronan Maher was fouled by Richie Hogan and play stopped at 62:08.
The crowd roared its approval and Tipperary manager Michael Ryan echoed the sentiment afterwards.
“It was a fantastic passage of play. In fairness to the ref, he was literally telling the boys to get on and play with it. In fairness to both sets of players, they did, and it was a really sporting game. No quarter given or asked, a great advertisement for how to play the game, in my opinion.”