‘Systems’ is the word that many feel is killing hurling as a spectacle at the moment. What is often classed as the greatest game in the world has been down right awful for the bones of two years now. One thing that is becoming less and less important is the role of the corner-forward.
Watching the games yesterday really pointed out one thing more than any other to this writer; that corner-forwards in hurling are becoming a thing of the past. This is one of the most worrying things of all about the game. Any sport changes and evolves over time and while defending is vital, the key component are those who put the scores on the board, whatever the sport may be.
Soccer is about the strikers who put the ball in the back of the net, baseball is about those who can get the runs, basketball is about who can shoot the jay, American football is about which quarter-back or running-back can get the touchdowns. The overall pattern is that any team can defend like beavers, to quote Chris Kamara, but in the end, it’s the team that scores the most will win.
Look at successful teams of the past. Kilkenny had Eddie Brennan, DJ Carey, Aidan Fogarty, Henry Shefflin to name four. Cork had Joe Deane. Tipperary had Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly. And that’s just hurling. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Lebron James, Steph Curry, Jamie Vardy, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, all of these leading figures. What have they done? They have provided scores for winning teams.
To take an example from recent history, Clare played Galway in the All-Ireland Hurling Quarter-Final. They played Cian Dillon as a sweeper and played with a two man full-forward line. Galway got a goal in the opening seconds of the second half, giving them a ten point lead. Clare had to push and peg back a big deficit. At least one if not two goals were going to be needed.
They persisted with a two man full-forward line. They played John Conlon and Aron Shanagher next to each other in front of the goal, but in playing a sweeper they gave Galway an extra defender. The Tribesmen used Aidan Harte in this role and as Clare lauched long balls into their two man full-forward line, Galway always had 3v2 and Harte more than anyone else just won possession and cleared.
Clear continued to play narrow with absolutely no joy whatsoever and it was this that really prompted this writer to wonder what has happened to the traditional corner-forward in hurling? They do not appear to exist anymore.
What has happened to hurlers like Eddie Brennan, Joe Deane, John Mullane, Damien Hayes, Billy Dooley, Seanie McGrath, Charlie Carter, Eugene Cloonan, Rory Jacob, Lar Corbett, Ben O’Connor, Ger O’Loughlin, Paul Flynn, Niall Gilligan, Andrew O’Shaughnessy and others?
Nowadays we are seeing the players with number 13,14 or 15 on their back out around the middle of the pitch hooking and blocking. We are seeing them act as sweepers, we are seeing them pick up ball in their own half and giving handpasses to teammates.
The days of the corner-forward are diminishing by the hour.
Clare yesterday were just a prime example of a team that did not have enough of an attacking threat. They could not chase the game and at no stage did they go back to a traditional three man full-forward line and give themselves three options inside close to goal. They played extremely narrow and were very easy to defend against.
It is a pattern that is emerging too much in hurling today. Waterford are the other clear example, Kilkenny do the same, yet people cannot seem to recognise this. To credit Tipperary, Galway and even Cork, they do attempt to play with players at 13, 14 and 15.
This writer is not complete traditionalist and isn’t a man for first time hurling and pulling on the ball etc. There is a complete acceptance that the game of hurling has evolved. But the one thing that is worrying is the lack of corner-forwards or even full-forwards playing the game at the moment.
Seamus Callanan, John McGrath, Alan Cadogan, TJ Reid/Richie Hogan (to an extent, when positioned at 14), Conor McDonald, Jonjo Farrell – outside of these men it is an actual struggle to think of players who play in the full-forward line and score on a regular basis.
It is a worrying change of mindset. Defending is a huge part of any sport, make no bones about it. And a successful team must have it right at the back. Any successful team will build from the back. It is the starting point, but the winning of the games is at the other end of the field, and not enough teams are putting emphasis on it at the moment.
To borrow the statement from golf, ‘you drive for show, and you putt for dough’, it is the statement that can sum up any sport. You need to a lot right to put yourself in position, but it’s the players who sink the putts are the players who will the big prizes.
In hurling, a team must have it right at the back, but it is the team that will attack best and put the scores on the board is the team that will win the titles. Corner-forwards are becoming a thing of the past.
It needs to change, not just for the good of the game, but for teams’ chances of being successful.