Let’s face it, this year’s hurling championship has been a poor one so far.
After superb 2013 and 2014 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championships, the 2015 championship hasn’t reached the same highs at all, even if we are still only at the quarter-final stage.
There is still time for this season to become one to remember, as in 2014, it was the semi-final between Limerick and Kilkenny and both finals between Tipperary and the Cats that really ignited the summer.
Yet there were still many great games in the provincial championship which we just haven’t seen this year.
This season has seen a defensive element creep in to the game that hasn’t been there before. Yes, hurling teams have played defensively in the past but this year has seen a defensive aspect become widespread and implemented by the majority of teams.
Crowding midfield, isolating men inside and running from deep are phrases that have become a lot more common this summer, not to mention a sweeper system.
In the opening round of this year’s Munster championship, Clare faced Limerick in what was an extremely dull affair, dominated by both defences. Clare left Shane O’Donnell inside in the full forward line all alone while withdrawing their half forward’s to midfield and leaving their midfielders occupy deep roles inside their own half.
Limerick, on the other hand, attempted to crowd midfield as much as possible, trying to make it in to more of a physical battle than one of hurling.
Both Munster semi-finals and the final were no such classics by any matter of means either. Tipp dominated against Limerick while Waterford edged out Cork in what was probably the most intruiging game in Munster this year.
In the final, no goals were scored which disappointed many. Both sets of defenders seemed to be content in conceding long-range one-pointers.
In Leinster, Galway and Kilkenny dispayed hugely impresive skill sets in the early rounds before playing out a largely disappointing final in which Kilkenny dominated defensively in the final twenty minutes.
The qualifiers were largely disappointing too. Dublin, Clare, Limerick and Cork had relatively comprehensive wins in Round 1 before a double-header in Thurles between Dublin and Limerick and Cork and Clare, again failed to ignite this summer’s championship.
Not taking away from the excitement factor, as there was plenty of drama in Thurles last Saturday week, but again a huge emphasis on defence was the main aspect of both games.
The tactical set-up of the Cork hurlers, shows just how much times have changed. Jimmy Barry-Murphy and company have never used defensive tactics before this summer’s qualifiers.
Against both Wexford and Clare, Mark Ellis has played a sweeper role, behind Cork’s half-back line, offering massive support to the full-back line. In Cork’s last two games, they haven’t conceded a goal.
In February of this year, Cork boss Barry-Murphy had this to say when questioned on tactics.
“I am not big into tactics myself… I am not a fool about them either, by the way… I do believe that hurling games can take on a life of their own; that spontaneity remains a huge part of the game. I do think some people feel I am not into the tactical side of things enough. That is a matter of opinion. It doesn’t bother me.”
As of 2015 so far, the ”spontaneity” aspect of hurling has gone out the window, replaced by pre-planned tactics aimed at nullifying the opposition from the outset.
It hasn’t been the best summer of hurling by any matter of means. However, hurling is one sport that can always spring surprises. With intruiging clashes on the horizon this Sunday, let’s hope that Championship 2015 can spring in to life.
Seán Ó Murchú, Pundit Arena.