John Allen: Endgame of New Hurling is ending Cats' monopoly
Waterford and Clare are working on tactics that they hope might slay the stripy dragon
Clare and Waterford meet again on Sunday. The game is now being played with defence, possession and optimum use of the sliotar as a priority. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
It was interesting to see and hear much spoken and written early in the week where the words “traditionalist” and “purist” were invoked so often. Most of the references were of the apologetic kind. The “traditionalists” and “purists”, they almost universally chorused, were not catered for in the fare served up by the hurlers of Waterford and Clare last weekend.
In 2016 hurling is played by men, most of them relatively young, who devote a huge part of their lives to prepare for occasions like last Sunday. I can assure all that every single one of them went out to play well and win the game.
There is a huge difference in the level and kind of preparation now involved in playing top-class hurling. This level is set by those now playing and those preparing teams. It is built on all the foundation stones put in place since the association was founded in the late 19th century. At that time hurling was played by the players of the time, within the rules of the time and with the equipment of the time.
The game has gone through much transition. The traditionalists and purists of all the generations since have had change to contend with.
The games of all the different generations were of that era and the best of them were the best of that time. The players of the different generations were the best then. They worked on the skills necessary then to be the best. They developed themselves to be the best.
There is absolutely no point in trying to compare players of different generations.
Or are they the faceless, self-righteous social media brigade that imagine their world view is shared by every right thinking human? Do they think that “proper” hurling was the preserve of another generation. Were all the great players only of another generation? What defines hurling ? Who defines how it should be played?
The game, at senior level, is now played, arguably, to the standard and structure set by Brian Cody and all of the teams he has had under his guidance over the past 20 years. It is well acknowledged that Kilkenny set the standard for what happens on the field of play today.
Kilkenny though, or Brian Cody, did not construct the defensive version we are now seeing so often . They play to win. They have been accused of playing on the edge. They play a manly brand of hurling and have always done under Cody’s watch.
The problem, though, is that the Kilkenny monopoly has created a need for means to defeat them which no county has managed consistently. Yes, they have occasionally suffered defeat on a given day but they’ve come back again doing more or less the same thing and achieving success again.
So now we are where we are and we have a game that is very much focused on neutralising the creation of goal chances, high octane work rate, support and counterattacking.
The highly defensive, structured game that we witnessed last Sunday is the latest instalment of how to overcome Kilkenny.
. Having so many players between the two 45s leads to little or no space and, conversely, acres of space.
The tendency is to hunt in packs, support in packs and try not to waste possession. The player going to or coming from these highly populated areas often are the ones to do the point scoring from those already mentioned acres.
So on Sunday the latest instalment of non-purist traditional hurling will unfold in the very traditional setting in Thurles.
It will be delivered by some of the best hurlers of the generation. It will have skill like we’ve never witnessed before. It will have speed of thought and action that surpasses all previous generations. It will have work rate that is far greater than ever delivered by past hurlers. It will have free takers that are accurate from 100 metres and inaccurate (at times) from 30.
It might have 50 or more scores. It will be tense with nobody wanting to make a mistake. It will have two full backs to one full forward. It will, at many times, have 20 players in close proximity to each other. It will be almost impossible, at times, to play the ball.
This is hurling 2016. As always, at most levels of adult sport, the winner takes all. Kilkenny have been the winners that have taken all for a long time now. Like it or lump it, the end game is slaying the stripy dragon and keeping it slayed. How it’s achieved is what’s being worked on.
We are very lucky to have such a wonderful entertaining, sometimes enthralling home-grown sport. Our interpretation of what makes it great has to adjust to understand and recognise the full worth of how it’s now played. We have got to learn to appreciate the subtleties that keep this sport exceptional. We have to appreciate the tactics, the off the ball support, defensive play and work rate as much as the skill of Tony Kelly, Colin Galvin, Austin Gleeson or Shane Bennett.
We’ve got to be cognisant of the level of preparation these amateurs go through to be able to survive at this level. The price was never higher. Yes there will be tension on Sunday. Yes the game will be defensive. Yes both teams will want to win. Yes all the players will give 100 per cent.
No, it won’t be played along traditional lines and probably won’t suit the purist.
We apparently have New Politics in our country. We now have New Hurling as well. It might last longer than the politics though.