The eminent sports columnist Eamonn Sweeney had a piece just shy of a year ago depicting the characteristics and viewpoints of a species known as ‘Hurling Man’. It was, of course, a satirical ensemble, but you can be sure it grated at the inner sensitivities of devotees of the ancient game.
Look, we’re all hurling fans. It is unequivocally accredited as being one of the best field games in the world. However, the fact is that some folk will always have a greater affinity with Gaelic football. Nothing wrong with that, either. Things get messy, though, when talk of the ‘football crowd’ having no interest in hurling – or vice versa – erupts.
All pretty needless really. People having different tastes is a fact of life and something which transcends sport. In a sporting context, some may prefer to follow rugby over soccer or racing over golf, whatever it may be. Just because hurling and football come under the one GAA umbrella doesn’t guarantee joint billing for both.
At a fundamental level, the similarities between booth codes are numerous. So, largely the same structure of playing rules are adhered to in both. Yet, they are two very different games in other ways. Thus, in some cases, trying to uniformly implement game legislation simply isn’t tenable.
Constant contentions that every new dictum introduced via football will destroy hurling don’t wash either, mind you. Anyone who believes there’s no cynicism in the small ball code presumably also checks under their pillow to see has the tooth fairy visited. Some of the resistance to regulation came laced with more than a pub dash of irony.
Eddie Keher is renowned as one of the greatest ever to pick up a hurl. Yours truly is in no position to dispute that assertion. Mostly, his musings on the state of the game have been informative and stimulating. Of late however, some utterances have been tiresome and, frankly, dated.
His disdain for the use of yellow and red cards in hurling is difficult to fathom. Surely players were cautioned in his day too. So what’s wrong with show a card so enabling all and sundry to know what’s going on? You’d wonder, indeed, was there an alternative motive driving dislike for disciplinary developments.
Kilkenny teams are well known for their ferocious competitiveness. And sailing fairly close to the wind with it. Though also laden with multiple layers of skilful genii, physicality and immense intensity are also intrinsic ingredients in the makeup of their greatness. Strip those away and maybe, just maybe you’ve unearthed a chink in their armour.
Not entirely likely, perhaps. If anything, the first serious weekend’s hurling of the season implied that it’s a case of as it was, so shall it always be in the hurling world. Brian Cody’s side losing their opening league encounter is nothing new. Even in defeat, ambassadors of their invincibility such as Henry Shefflin, Eoin Larkin and Paul Murphy fired enough from the trenches to confirm they are not battle weary just yet. The best of Walter Walsh surely still has to arrive and some of an unusually high number of newcomers did their chances of being invited for repeat auditions no harm.
Gut feeling suggests Clare have skipped a few furlongs clear of the chasing pack. Breakthrough teams have given similar impressions in the past only to fade. Difference is that no team under Davy Fitzgerald will be allowed drop the bit. He always at least appears to be trying to prove something to somebody. His hornets are already buzzing about the place as if it were midsummer high pollen season.
For all that, they’re unlikely to be overly riled down Noreside just yet. Like some of Willie Mullins’ champion steeds housed down that way, they’ll know to time their run for when it’s needed most. Akin to Hurricane Fly, even if, and it’s a big if, the destructive power of yore isn’t there, sheer dogmatism and knowhow will still deem them stern examiners of anybody. Throw in a sprinkle of wounded cat syndrome and the intrigue bubbles nicely.
Elsewhere on the hurling scene, and this is equally applicable to football, some things command more notice than others at this time of year. Dublin getting a pasting off Galway isn’t, I feel, something to be read into too extensively. The vanquished have had a noteworthy few years and Anthony Daly probably has upped the bar a bit.
For the overall good of the game, it’s hard to know what way to read into the conquest of Offaly by Laois. The latter were always bound to progress with Seamus Plunkett in charge. But equally, it’d be great to see the men from the Faithful progress and be genuine contenders again.
Aside from that, Limerick, for now at least, appear to have maintained some of the momentum generated last term. Aided, it must be said, by Cork again failing to close out a game they appeared in control of. That’ll be a concern to Jimmy Barry-Murphy but he’d be still safe enough planning for August, at least.