One of the most notable aspects of the two rounds of the hurling league to date has been the big scoring totals by free-takers. This continues a trend that has seen points’ totals climbing.
Jason Forde's equaliser for Tipperary against Cork on Saturday was hit from his own 45-metre line, as was a free by Galway's Joe Canning in the county's defeat of All-Ireland champions Limerick in Pearse Stadium.
Forde’s tally of 0-24 from matches against Limerick and Cork includes 0-21 from frees.
Others with dead-ball totals in double figures in Division One matches to date are Galway's Evan Niland, Waterford's Patrick Curran, Donal Burke of Dublin (0-15 out 0-18 in Saturday's defeat of Laois), Niall O'Brien (Westmeath, 0-11 against Galway last week), Ciarán Clarke (Antrim 0-10 out of 1-11 in the defeat of Clare).
Niland’s performance was a talking point in Limerick’s first defeat in nearly two years. He paid tribute to his Galway team-mates in terms of the overall display.
“The lads were working hard winning frees and I just had the handy job of tapping them over. We came out after half-time and we didn’t do great but we finished off very well, which is good. I suppose we are only back in training a few weeks and to finish well is very important.”
There was controversy afterwards when Limerick manager John Kiely accused Galway of simulation in gaining frees – an allegation to which Galway declined to respond when asked.
For Niland and Galway, Tipperary are next up in Thurles and the likelihood of a shoot-out with Forde.
“Yeah, a big test. They have two draws so it will be a big game and three weeks in a row is tough going but we will take confidence from this game and look forward to next week and hopefully we will give a good account of ourselves.”
Modern equipment has made distance easier to achieve but contemporary free-taking is now expected to be in the region of 90 per cent.
It has refocused attention on the idea of incentivising goals by raising their value. In 2015 the ‘Hurling 2020’ report considered the matter.
“The scoring of a goal in hurling is one of the game’s more exciting events. Despite the 2013 hurling championship season being lauded as one of the best ever, rounded off by eight goals in the All-Ireland final replay between Clare and Cork, it also was a season where the number of goals scored per game dropped off dramatically on the previous two years.
“On average, there was one goal less per game in the 2013 Championship compared to 2012, with every inter-county championship competition bar one recording a reduction in goals scored. In real terms, there were 44 less goals scored in 2013 versus 2012 and 58 less goals scored when you compare 2013 with 2011.
“Such a decline prompted discussion among the Hurling 2020 committee about the need for a goal to be rewarded with four points instead of three as has traditionally been the case.
“This was a radical proposal and got little traction with just 6% approval among survey respondents.
“The statistics for 2014 have shown an increase to 3.1 goals per game, up 0.5 goals per game on 2013 but still short of the goals scored in 2011 and 2012.”
Two of the last four All-Ireland winners have won the final without scoring a goal and last December’s was the first final in 16 years in which neither side raised a green flag.
The championship goal average in the past three years over different formats compared with 2014 fell even farther to 2.8, 2.5 and in 2020, 2.41.
Elsewhere, Tipperary footballers will be without Robbie Kiely for the rest of the season. The experienced half back started last November's historic Munster final victory over Cork. Kiely didn't play in Saturday's defeat by Limerick in Division Three South of the AFL and manager David Power confirmed on Tipp FM that the player had sustained a serious injury.
“Robbie is out for the season, it looks like four to six months,” said the Premier manager. “He has a grade three C hamstring tear and he’s got tendon damage done, that’s him gone so that’s really disappointing.”