This Saturday at Croke Park an extraordinary Cuala team seek to emulate the achievement of Sarsfields (1993-94), Athenry (2000-01), Birr (2002-03) and Portumna (2008-09) and place All-Ireland club titles back-to-back. Standing in their way, however, are former champions Na Piarsaigh. Indeed, for fans of club hurling Saturday’s contest represents the dream decider: the past two champions pitted against one another on the grandest of stages with each side capable of reaching hurling heights which adjectives cannot really scale. If you are not excited about the clash of Cuala and Na Piarsaigh then you bloody well should be.
Writing in 2015 for the Irish Examiner Paddy Heaney argued that a new vocabulary was required to describe the roles performed by Gaelic football players. Similarly it seems that we must learn to interpret the game of hurling and, especially, the positions of players and their associated roles within teams differently. Indeed, the performance of Micheál Donoghue’s Galway team during the 2017 championship has illustrated as much.
When a death occurs under suspicious circumstances it is standard practice to hold an inquest – such a procedure assists with the grieving process. The same goes for unexpected championship defeats. And, since the surprise reversal suffered at the hands of Cork in the quarter-final of the Munster Senior Hurling Championship the air in Tipperary has been thick with sulphur. But rather than search for heads to mount on pikes we decided to take a measured look at the statistical performance of the Tipperary team and thereby assess how far Michael Ryan’s hurlers need to travel in order to re-discover the hard-working identity associated with the team in 2016. Continue reading
A victory for Waterford in the Munster final would represent a victory for ideas – Derek McGrath has set out to beat the game and the example set is as convention-defying as anything we have ever seen.
Pundits are concerned about the trajectory of the game; they argue that the spectacle needs to improve and that tactics in general pose a risk to hurling’s future – more specifically Waterford’s counter-attacking approach is regarded as pejorative.
The misinterpretation of Waterford’s style, however, begs the question: do followers of the game actually understand what they are looking at?
Australian journalist James Coventry identified a disconnect between how supporters and pundits perceived Aussie Rules and how the game actually worked – in 2015 Coventry published a book which attempted to explain the game to the general public and drag the stakeholders together in a practical way.
Is something similar required to explain hurling?
In an interview with The Blizzard former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson declared: “I don’t think the media are actually that interested in what happens in game of football”.
This is significant – the narratives which dominate media coverage of sporting events, generally, do not mirror the conversations that elite sports people or those interested in the factors which actually contribute to sporting success have with one another.