John Allen: Hurlers utilising football tactics is clear and present

Clare backs used a system to stymie the opposition sweeper but weren’t as successful at it as Waterford were in league

Limerick’s Cian Lynch, seen here getting away from David McInerney of Clare, had an excellent performance in last week’s Munster Senior Hurling Championship quarter-final at Semple Stadium. Photograph: James Crosbie/Inpho.

Limerick’s Cian Lynch, seen here getting away from David McInerney of Clare, had an excellent performance in last week’s Munster Senior Hurling Championship quarter-final at Semple Stadium. Photograph: James Crosbie/Inpho.

 

Last August I went to two Saturday evening All-Ireland football quarter-final games in Croke Park. I hadn’t been at a county football game for a good few years and it was like being at a sport I didn’t understand and hadn’t ever seen before.

I was in the Canal End so had a full view up the pitch. My company on that evening, a Mr Eddie O Donnell, was also a modern football philistine.

Tactically this was much too complicated for my 1970s/’80s football mind. It was like a game of space invaders with everybody moving almost all the time.

One tactic really had us puzzled. We were at a loss to understand why, when a kick out was being taken from the Canal End only six outfield players (three forwards and three backs) occupied the Hill 16 side of the field .

So what you may ask . Well these six players were one in front of the other in a straight line like a queue on a Saturday night in Jackie Lennox’s chipper.

There weren’t any players on the wings. The ball was then worked up the field. This happened for many kicks out and we couldn’t understand the logic of it.

After the game a football aficionado explained that this lessened the effectiveness of a sweeper. The forwards jinked around in little semi circles left and right with the backs on their tails not knowing in what direction the forward was eventually going to run. It definitely decreased the sweepers’ value.

Extremely tricky

The Waterford hurlers have been accused of using tactics from the ever-changing football manual. Well, the Clare hurlers must have also garnered a copy somewhere but didn’t use them as effectively as the Déise men can. We await further developments and possible criticism from the traditionalists.

Before I finish with last Sunday’s game I must acknowledge the carefree, excellent performance from Cian Lynch. He was superb and so was the performance of Andrew Kelly from Ballintotis NS in one of the Cork Sciath na Scol finals on Tuesday.

He got 1-9 on the scoreboard, a Joe Deane in the making, ciotóg, yellow helmet and all.

What an important match we have on Sunday. Two of the three big hitters in Leinster go to battle. The league match between them has almost no significance as Galway were already qualified when they played and performed accordingly.

We can trot out the usual comments and questions about Galway. Well one in particular. Which Galway team will show up? Maybe we could ask the same question about Dublin.

They had a league campaign which began in a blaze of glory and ended with them, like the schoolboy in the Dutch legend, trying to stop the leak in the dyke, but they just didn’t have enough fingers or ability to halt the Cork torrent.

This story, they say, is told to children to teach them that if they act quickly and in time, even with their limited strength and resources they can avert disasters.

Let it slip

Is it fair to say that Dublin is a team of limited strength? There’s no doubt but they are well handicapped by the fact that almost all of the top dual players, when forced to chose, opt for the big-ball game. The under-21 hurling forward line that played in the Leinster final last year were short four of the players who lined out with the minors in the 2011 All-Ireland final.

In my estimation Dublin, with their huge playing population, need to make a decision not to play any dual players at minor level. That’s a debate for another day I suppose.

What about the “they’re not natural hurlers” theory’? Where is the scientific evidence to back that one up? Surely it’s a sweeping generalisation and an insult to the many fine hurlers in Dublin.

What is a natural hurler? Are some children in specific counties born with a hurling gene? Is Dublin not one of those counties? What about the nature v nurture debate? Have a read of Geoff Colvin’s book Talent is Overrated or David Epstein’s The Sports Gene for science backed opinions on what really separates world-class performers from everybody else.

I don’t accept that Dublin haven’t been as successful as their very large playing population might suggest they should be because they’re not natural hurlers.

Maybe they don’t have enough top-class hurlers available. Maybe the best is yet to come. Maybe the coaching at child level needs forensic evaluation. The Dublin County Board certainly seem to be doing their utmost to ensure that hurling is being properly promoted and developed in the schools and clubs.

Go to battle

Joe Canning

There are many questions hanging over both sides. The not natural and sometimes unpredictable Dublin against the naturally unpredictable and sometimes brilliant Galway might produce a epic.

Based on what we’ve seen from both sides this season I think Dublin are best placed to win.

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