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“You Can Be As Physical As You Want, But Without Skill, You Won’t Win”

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Galway legend, Ollie Canning maintains that skill levels are still the most important aspect of hurling, despite the game getting more and more physical every year. 

The new round-robin system, introduced for the 2018 season has seen players having to be physically ready to play up to four games in four weeks and although players welcome the increase in the number of games in a season, Canning believes that the current workload is too testing.

The one thing players don’t like is having loads and loads of training sessions and then too few matches. This year during the summer, the matches came really thick and fast and I think that’s what players want. But, you do need a bit more of a gap in between.

Because it is hard to mentally motivate yourself week on week on week. I think players are at a physical level now where they can handle the physicality but getting yourself up mentally for these big games, that’s one of the hardest aspects. If teams were only playing two weeks in a row and then had a break, that would be the ideal situation.

His native county, Galway, played nine championship games this summer and although they are considered one of the strongest and fittest teams in the competition, they appeared fatigued in the All Ireland loss to Limerick. It was a better year for their minor side who were crowned All Ireland champions for the second year running while their U21 side reached their All Ireland semi-final. The Sky Sports pundit insists that these young players must be given time to develop before being moved to senior level in order to cope with the demands at the top.

It takes time to progress minors through to U21’s and then from U21 to senior. I believe these players need to be given time, you can’t rush players too quickly because it’s very, very competitive at senior level now. Everyone talks about the physicality and for me, players now are way bigger and way stronger than they were 10 years ago. They’re a different shape now, the hurlers.

Minors and U21’s need to be given that time I think. The ideal age would be age 22 or 23 to be trying to break into the senior game. By that stage you have a bit of experience, you also have three or four years of solid gym work to prepare to play at the highest level and that’s the way the game has gone.

The physical side of the game has developed at an extraordinary rate over the last number of years, with players at all levels expected to undertake a rigorous gym regime on top of there on-field duties. Many have argued that with its growth has come the decline in the skill and basic essentials or hurling. Canning, however, disagrees with that argument and instead states that skill levels have never been higher.

We still see players that are pulling off magical moves with the hurley and ball. The score-taking, the ball control, the fielding, all the skills of the game really are at the highest level they’ve ever been at. I think players have brought the physical part of the game, that has improved, but I don’t see that the skills of the game have disimproved.

Ollie Canning

I think deep down, everyone knows that, no matter how strong you are or how fit you are, if you’re ball control is not good, if you’re striking is not good, you’re not going to win in hurling. And that’s the beautiful thing about hurling, unless the skills of the game are perfected and at the highest level, you’re not going to win games and I think deep down everybody understands that.


Attending the GAA Youth Forum in partnership with Sky Sports, were Sky Sports Pundit, Ollie Canning, Cork star Conor Lehane and 2-time All-Star award winner, Conor McManus. This is the second year of a five year grassroots partnership which has seen Sky Sports extend its support beyond the screen and invest €3million directly into GAA grassroots. As well as partnering with the GAA in support of today’s Youth Forum, Sky Sports will also continue to grow the game through its involvement with the GAA Super Games Centers countrywide, an initiative which encourages more kids to participate and get involved in Gaelic Games as well as The GAA Games Development Conference (January 2019).

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Author: Marisa Kennedy

Marisa is a Digital Journalist with Pundit Arena. You can contact her at or on Twitter