The Exact Number of Grumpy Hurling Men is Unknown

If you ask me, the Golden Age of pop music occurred in 1990 and it’s been downhill ever since. Possibly this is because Happy Mondays, Primal Scream and Prefab Sprout really were the best bands ever. Alternatively it could have something to do with the fact I was aged 20 that year and went to the disco every weekend. No doubt other people would point to totally different eras as the high point, sometime when they were young and which has never been equalled since. It’s a common syndrome, not just in pop music, as I was reminded by the man behind me at last Sunday’s Clare v Tipp match. You could call him a Clare fan, or a Clare supporter, but neither description quite fits. Simpler to say he was a Clare ‘hurling man’, but not one that can take much pleasure from our current team. He spent most of the game shouting instructions at them with growing frustration. His message for the Clare players, though expressed in different ways, was a simple one, First Time! Let it go! Belt it! Hit the ******* ball!

There is one of these grumpy men behind me at every single intercounty game so although I can’t put a number on it, there must be quite a few who feel the same way. Or… possibly there is only one grumpy man… and he is stalking me. I’m not sure which prospect is more disturbing. In any case, all the other counties have at least one grumpy man as well. For Galway, Limerick and most obviously Waterford, there is nobody who can abuse a county hurler with quite the same vehemence as one of their own. Even as Cork cruised to a comfortable victory in last year’s Munster final, there was a man in Red yelling from the stands as to what the players were doing wrong. Yes they were winning but it just wasn’t as satisfying as the way they used to win. It’s a simple game, he insisted. The way in which it should be played was established by JBM and fourteen colleagues in 1977 and this is not it.

The truth is hurling has always been evolving. One only needs to look at the length and shape of the hurleys in old photos to see that. First time ground hurling and overhead striking were once the fashion and various one-off tactics have often been used. It’s fair to say though that the speed of evolution has quickened since 2004. That was the year a middling Clare team nearly toppled Kilkenny with Alan Markham as sweeper. More significantly it was when Cork switched to a running style that would take them to two All-Irelands. Since then there has been a growing emphasis on puck-out strategy. Retaining possession. Crowding the middle third. Passing out of defence. Creating overlaps. There are differences of emphasis, but everyone is doing it to some extent. There are differences in the ability of players to execute the Plan, but you may be quite certain that there is A PLAN. Nobody just lamps the ball first time without looking. Belt the ball aimlessly and you’ll have it sail back over your head for an opposition score.

County managers and players are not in the business of providing good old-fashioned entertainment as such. They want to win. If they thought hitting the ball as hard as possible down the field would win games, they would. But as it is, they believe differently. Differently than my grumpy man in Row F, Seat 29. So all his shouting is in vain. He might as well be at an Ed Sheeran concert, barking at the red-haired fellow to play like David Bowie or Bruce Springsteen. Not going to happen. If my man wants to see old-fashioned hurling then the best place for it is TG4 reruns and YouTube. In the meantime, let us watch what the current crop of hurlers are doing. Whatever the tactics, you will also still see the timeless essentials; strength, speed, controlled aggression and will-to-win. Plus huge levels of skill. You might call it tippy tappy, but consider Podge Collins’ backwards handpass v Galway in 2013. That one moment lit a love of hurling in the heart of every youngster who saw it, and it may never die.

This may or may not be a Golden Age of hurling but as a spectator, if your eyes are open, there is much to admire. As to the Golden Age of pop? That has been settled definitively. I give you Exhibits A, B & C.

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