A week after our expulsion from the Munster championship the fall-out continues to draw heated debate.
I often wonder if the younger generation has any concept of the world before mobiles and the internet and all the gadgetry and gismos of the modern digital age. It was a simpler time back then when players could easily insulate themselves against the kick-back from a championship exit. Barring the odd face-to-face encounter at work, the shop or creamery you were mostly immune from the flak – apart maybe from the barbs of some crusty columnist in the local paper the following weekend!
All’s changed, however. Nowadays we live in an era of never-ending contact where everyone has a view and bar you live in an enclosed monastery it’s difficult to escape the dialogue.
The Tipperary hurlers will certainly have felt the heat of this in the past week as the criticisms rained in hot and heavy – some justified but others way beyond acceptable limits.
I have been known to throw a dig here and there over the years but even I cringe at some of the stuff I’ve heard and read over the past week. I can only imagine how bruised the players must feel.
There is a level of legitimate criticism which the team must accept but when you veer into tabloid language about fellows being gutless and spoofers and whatnot then a line has been crossed. That might be appropriate for misbehaving politicians but hardly for amateur hurlers.
Among the public there is this easy, facile line taken after most defeats. In this world of bar-stool analysis the team becomes a shower of wasters who should all be dropped instantly and while that’s bearable (just about) on the street corner it takes on a nastier dimension when delivered in cold print.
The drink allegation then conveniently feeds into this narrative.
But surely here’s the point: amateur hurlers put their social lives on hold to prepare for games like this. There’s a tense, pressurised build-up and surely they’re entitled to some release afterwards. This was always accepted by previous managements who understood that some players went on the town to unwind the day after a big game and then were back at training by Tuesday or Thursday to refocus for the next challenge. Players have lives outside of hurling and we surely cannot demand a monastic existence from them.
In the end it all comes down to a bit of perspective when assessing a defeat. Some seem to forget how difficult we’ve traditionally found Limerick as opponents. In my preview to the game I pointed out that the average margin between the counties in nine of the previous ten encounters was a mere two points. That remains the average after this latest game. Given such tightness it takes very little to tip a game either way and we have no automatic right to be on the winning side of that tipping point.
It’s easy to isolate the winning and losing of this particular game and it had nothing to do with fellows being funky. The two Limerick goals came from defensive errors. (Incidentally, and contrary to this popular line of criticism, the second goal resulted from over-zealousness by three defenders all going for the same ball). Then at the other end you had a few wrong options, a few fluffed strikes dropping short and a few bad wides. A very marginal switch in fortune would have reversed the outcome.
Yet reading some of the criticism you would imagine we were whitewashed, like Offaly on Saturday night. People have short memories. Even in Nicky English’s golden year as manager, ’01, we scraped past an unrated Limerick team in the Munster final. What was the margin? Would you believe another two pointer?
Can I further remind people of 2010 because it has been suggested we revisit that script as a recipe for the present season. Well, again memories are faulty. A ten point drubbing to Cork in Munster was far worse that what Limerick inflicted this time. And then the great escape against Galway in the All Ireland quarter-final, Ollie Canning’s injury a critical late item before Corbett hit the angled winner. Marginal stuff that could just as easily have leaned the other way. That 2010 final has tended to skew our overall recall of this famous season.
All of that isn’t to deny that criticism of aspects of the Limerick performance is merited. Undeniably some players were far too casual in that game and unfortunately we have lately developed this tendency to freeze within sight of the winning tape. Management too takes a hit for not addressing midfield earlier and then making questionable substitutions. These are undeniable negatives but it hardly amounts to a failure to man-up.
Anyway, looking ahead now, which is our only option, there are definite issues to be addressed, though not the wholesale alterations that some suggest. Midfield is a priority area where the Kieran Bergin move hasn’t worked and Shane McGrath is now more of a cameo player than a game-long contributor. Woodlock’s return should help and there’s a growing perception that Ronan Maher has to be given his chance.
We might have to look at half back also where Conor O’Mahony’s impact at wing is questionable and Brendan Maher’s role may need to be redefined. In attack it’s time Corbett became a central player now after the long absence and perhaps Colin O’Riordan may be able to contribute something once the Leaving Certificate is put aside. Denis Maher too may have more to offer. Some tweaking of the set-up certainly is needed and a general refocusing is essential if we’re to avoid another short campaign.
The qualifier draw will be awaited with interest. We will be drawn against a Leinster bowl containing Offaly, either Antrim or Laois, plus the losers from Kilkenny v. Galway and Wexford v. Dublin. There are a few potential trap doors there. After Kilkenny’s statement last weekend I’d expect Galway to be in the qualifier draw but Wexford and Dublin is a difficult one to call next Saturday. In any other venue you’d opt for Dublin to emerge but Wexford Park makes it a lot less predictable. Either way, a worst case scenario could see us with an away fixture in Salthill, or Wexford Park or Parnell Park, any of which would be very tricky. We’ll wait and see.
Those Anthony Nash penalties have taken an extraordinary twist after last Sunday’s game at Thurles. In our innocence we believed that the goalie and defenders had to remain on their goal line until the ball was struck, irrespective of how close the striker came. Now it seems that there’s been a referees’ interpretation in place for some time which allows the defenders to charge out once the ball is tossed up. How about that for a best kept secret?
This is incredible because it over-turns a long-held view that you had to remain static until the ball was struck as opposed to when it was tossed forward. Now here’s a question: if referees can make a new interpretation like this why can’t they similarly interpret the old rule to mean that the free must be struck on the twenty meter line, which was clearly the original intention of the rule makers? The handling of this entire issue has been disastrous and could yet lead to major controversy before the season is out.