Nicky English: Making goals worth five points could work wonders for hurling

This is the best time ever for players and radical changes aren’t needed just yet

Galway’s Joe Canning scores his sides second goal during their Allianz League win over Waterford. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Galway’s Joe Canning scores his sides second goal during their Allianz League win over Waterford. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Is hurling for the people who are playing or the people who are watching? If I was a player again I’d love a lot about the way the game is played at present - particularly the type of equipment now being used.

The ball is pretty standard now. The hurley is also likely to be of consistent quality. You’ll have three or four hurleys of the same weight and same size - something that was un-achievable in my time. You’d have one good stick that you would have mended in about 45 different ways and at 45 different times.

Nothing came close to it in terms of quality and your number one hurley had to be minded. Another thing, rarely talked about, is the advent in the early 1990s of the current grip, which had a huge impact.

As a player I’d love the new equipment and a game with less random pulling on the ground, which would have meant more measured deliveries into the forward line. The only difficulty is that I still wouldn’t be getting enough of it because there’d be so much ball going in over my head for wides or scores.

The expected score for a team is now 26 or 27 points and a lot of that is without goals. Throw in wides and it’s not unusual for there to be well over 70 attempts at scoring in a match or more than one a minute.

There has been some talk of making the sliotar heavier but you need to be very careful if you go down that road. The sliotar needs to be consistent and it should also be nice to play with. I have no doubt that the modern sliotar is - so why would you take that away from players?

Is there a case to be made to raise the value of goals to five points? Would it mean more ball to me at full forward? Yes, it probably would. It would be less acceptable to shoot from 120 yards - whether they score or not.

It may be simple to change the composition of the ball but I would like players to be consulted. How many were consulted about the yellow ball, for example?

The most important people for me are those playing with it. This also applies to the hurleys. How many of them are even legal at present? The bas is meant to be 13 centimetres. Does anyone care? Why have the rule there if you’re not going to apply it? Either enforce or get rid of it.

More difficult

Again I would consult players on this. If they’re happy playing with a bigger bas, let them. Why make the game more difficult for those playing it? So, I’ve no desire to see this enforced.

Players always influence the way the game is played. That’s sport. The current greater positional fluidity and emphasis on retaining possession originated in Fitzgibbon, third-level hurling where players experimented with those innovations and mostly on their own initiative. I was a coach in that sector and that’s the way they want to play and that’s how it evolved. It’s largely player-led and player-driven.

My generation also had slightly shorter hurleys with a bigger bas than our predecessors in the 1960s and ‘70s. Their hurleys more resembled hockey sticks and were typically a lot longer.

We used to wonder how they played with them. Looking back I wonder why we didn’t go farther and opt for today’s versions, shorter again and with a bigger bas and much larger sweet spot.

One reason is that we hadn’t the strength and conditioning, which the lads have now. If you have a bigger head on the hurley you have to have the strength to carry it, wield it and work it the way players do now. Would our upper bodies have been strong enough to use the modern sticks?

So back to the question: who should decide the way the game is played? I believe that the vast majority of players like it just where it is. Corner forwards would surely prefer to see a bit more of the ball and corner backs are correspondingly happier to see most of the play out the field.

And the rest of us? Do we really want to go back to All-Irelands with 16 or 17 points? I want to see more goals. That’s what floats my boat!

Ask yourself what goals do you remember? I’d imagine it’s a lot more than the points you remember. Apart from Ciarán Carey’s in 1996 and Peter Duggan’s in 2018 and maybe one or two others? I’ve loads of goals branded into my memory but these days a team can get 30 points and you’d remember none of them.

I did an analysis of the 1995 All-Ireland final last year and the first six plays were ground strikes. Any time anyone pulled on the ground, there was a big cheer from the crowd even though the ball just went about 10 yards and generally to the opposition.

Spectators - and some officials! - traditionally enjoy that random pulling or overhead striking even though tactically it mightn’t make a lot of sense. If it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do, but if a player is doing it simply to get a cheer up in the stands then it’s not the right thing to do.

I’d also caution that we haven’t seen a summer championship for two years. I’d argue that in 2018 and 2019 we saw the best two years of All-Ireland semi-finals that arguably we’d ever seen.

Long ball

We haven’t seen a big crowd at a championship match for the same period. Some of the most exciting things I’ve seen in my life at matches were going as a teenager to see Leinster finals and the roar from the Wexford crowd when a long ball was launched in to Tony Doran.

It wasn’t hit in for a point. The only thing on anyone’s mind was a goal and you knew that’s what he was going to try to make happen. High up in the Cusack or Hogan there was unbelievable excitement.

The game needs the thrill of classic goals. It needs to preserve that sense of anticipation when Joe McKenna or Jimmy Barry-Murphy or DJ Carey were on the prowl, hunting primarily for goals. Even last weekend we saw Dessie Hutchinson following in that tradition.

I’m convinced that making a goal worth five points would enhance that excitement and change the way the game is played.

I wouldn’t panic yet, though. The league has gotten better and let’s see what a hot summer’s championship brings before we start changing things like the sliotar, the value of a goal and putting five lads inside the 45-metre line for puck-outs.

Let’s see how the next couple of months go but I believe that the re-valuation of the goal will become necessary.

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