The two teams meet again this weekend in the Allianz League
Here we go again. Two teams that play in a similar style and who both have young innovative management teams clash for the second time in seven days. Yet, due to the close proximity of a Championship clash there’s no need to debate what the tactics will be, as no change is expected.
Before last Sunday's final, a well known Waterford hurling brain told me the referee would throw the ball in and we’ll see 26 lads around the middle of the field. I lived in denial up to the throw in last week but alas it was in vein. Sure enough, the space between the 45’s became prime real estate while inside the 45’s was like a summer holiday village in the first week of September.
Life would be so much more interesting if transport trends followed hurling trends. If it did, you could pick your seat at either end of the Luas, as the vast majority of travellers would gather around the central carriages. For claustrophobic people like me, that may put an end to watching, as three packed Luas’ go by, while in hurling, it would not guarantee an All-Ireland, but it would certainly lesson the prospect of shipping killer goals. Goals win games, but for Waterford in the past they’ve also lost games.
Let's not confuse an observation with a criticism. It isn’t. Waterford and Clare are doing what they have to do and neither wants to show their hand ahead of June 5th when they meet in Munster. Hurling like everything else in life has evolved and at the moment it’s in phase of crowding the space.
Waterford's Maurice Shanahan celebrates scoring a free at the end of the game to force a replay. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne
John Allen pointed out in his Irish Times article on Friday morning this doesn’t mean the skills or abilities are lesser – it just means the style has changed. Allen, a deep thinking observer on hurling and life, articulated the view of many fans who appreciate the skills and sheer work-rate of the players in the modern game. Never before has more dedication off the park been required to make yourself ready for the battle on it.
I’d urge anyone who loves the game to watch out for the execution of skills this Sunday. It’s hard enough to score a point in Thurles in a high intensity game, but to do it when you’re being chased down by three opposition players is nigh-on impossible. Tony Kelly, Brian O’Halloran , David Reidy, Conor McGrath , Shane Bennett, Podge Collins and Patrick Curran all scored wonder points last week but in my mind the credit they deserve has not been forthcoming due to the now tired debate about the set up of the sides and "the modern game".
Hurling has changed for many reasons but it’s not because teams have players that can’t hurl. It’s because teams have players that can! Everyone can use the ball, everyone can stick-pass, everyone can go on weaving runs so why not get the best of those players by ensuring possession and running the ball. Give away possession now or get caught high up the field and you’re more likely than ever before to get punished.
This being Ireland, we prefer to focus on who to blame rather than how to move on, or fix it so this week my target of blame is Domhnall O’Donovan. As soon as he popped up to score that memorable point in the classic drawn All-Ireland final against Cork, every corner-back wanted to use their skills and get up the field causing the current impasse we are seeing now. I hope you’re happy with yourself Domhnall!