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Limerick midfielder and hurling wizard Cian Lynch has helped redefine what skills can be performed during a championship match. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Limerick midfielder and hurling wizard Cian Lynch has helped redefine what skills can be performed during a championship match. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

Social media puts the new-wave hurling artists like Cian Lynch in the spotlight

BEFORE the All-Ireland hurling final replay in 2013, Championship Matters, the former TV GAA magazine programme, ran a three-minute promo for that game.

The footage showed highlights from that magical summer of 2013, which was, up to that point, regarded as the most competitive, dramatic and best hurling championship ever.

Titled ‘Freestyle hurling’, the promo began and concluded with two young hurlers — Declan Kelly from Cork and Cian Lynch from Limerick — showcasing their skills on Dublin’s docklands.

Luke O'Farrell and Conor Lehane, past pupils of Midleton CBS, with Declan Kelly, Kiltha Óg, the GAA/GPA freestyle hurling champion 2013. Picture: Denis Minihane
Luke O'Farrell and Conor Lehane, past pupils of Midleton CBS, with Declan Kelly, Kiltha Óg, the GAA/GPA freestyle hurling champion 2013. Picture: Denis Minihane

Kelly was chosen as the ‘Freestyle Hurling’ champion that summer while Lynch was already regarded as one of the brightest young talents in the game.

Still U17 at the time, Lynch had given one of the great individual displays in that year’s Limerick-Galway All-Ireland minor semi-final.

When the GAA introduced that concept of ‘Freestyle Hurling’, players could upload their own skills videos onto a website before the eventual winner showcased those skills at half-time during a big championship Sunday in Croke Park.

Many of those individual skills shown on those videos wouldn’t have been deemed possible to display during an inter-county championship match.

But young kids, and players in general, are trying out so many new skills, and performing them so regularly, that those audacious new tricks have been regularly on display from hurling’s expanding portfolio.

Some of the skills Lynch performed in that promo have been on show in recent months.

In the opening round of the league in January, Lynch lost his hurley in midfield but still proceeded to clip the loose sliotar up into his hand with his boot before laying it off to a team-mate to continue the momentum.

A hurley-less Cian Lynch of Limerick on the ball. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
A hurley-less Cian Lynch of Limerick on the ball. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

In a radio interview a few days later, former Limerick player Niall Moran used the word “draoidoir” — the Irish for wizard — to describe Lynch.

“You talk about Ring and Shefflin and all these guys and the skills that they had, this guy is different as well,” said Moran. “He is just bringing a whole new set of skills to the game.

“He is just class. All the kids are trying to do what he is doing.”

It’s not just kids who are following Lynch’s lead. When Limerick played Cork in February, Lynch chipped the ball off the turf, between his legs and into his hand before wheeling away.

When Limerick played Waterford earlier this month, Gearoid Hegarty and Conor Boylan displayed similar skills in tight situations with bodies around them.

Players might routinely practise that skill when casually pucking around at home or before training but to carry it out in the white heat of battle further underlines a new form of expressionism in hurling.

Much of modern hurling has been bound up by talk of tactics and systems but there is still always that greater scope for expression with hurling, and the kind of game it is.

Detailed structural planning is often the most logical way to marry expression with results in the modern game.

But with so many tactical constraints now in that environment, the modern game has also found so many new ways of expression, which has manifested itself in so many new skills.

Evolution is a natural process in any sport, especially elite sport.

Hurling’s randomness has always been a fundamental part of its appeal, but the modern game has been all about reducing that influence, subverting orthodoxy, and limiting spontaneity.

The game has changed so much that many of the old traditional skills are redundant in hurling now. First-time, ground hurling or over-head doubling on the ball are effectively extinct.

Some of the new skills may not have that same aesthetic beauty from that old traditional style but, those skills carry just as much attractive qualities considering the claustrophobic conditions in which they are regularly executed.

The new skills, or plays, may be subtle but they are obvious to the keen eye.

Reverse handpasses; the fake shot, before pulling it back in to deceive the defender or intended blocker, to buy more time and space for the actual shot.

Driving the sliotar into the ground at close range to bypass an incoming player, or players, so the sliotar can hop into a team-mate’s hand.

Cian Lynch taking on Cork at Croke Park in 2018. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cian Lynch taking on Cork at Croke Park in 2018. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Batting the ball to the net; head-height forward-patted handpasses; playing snappy triangle passes to bypass a mass defence.

Dropping the ball to the ground in possession when the player has already caught the sliotar twice before quickly gathering it again in order to buy more time and options; playing the ball back to the goalkeeper in open play.

Quick sideline cuts where the ball is then quickly slipped back to the sideline taker; holding the ball in the hand and mimicking a play-action to try and lure an opposition player in for a needless tackle or block; the Brick Flick.

Most of those skills have been stitched into the fabric of hurling’s expanding canvas because hurling has become so fast and physical that players have to think, and paint, quicker than ever before.

On average, inter-county players have 1.7 seconds in possession before getting swallowed up.

And with that timeframe decreasing by the season, improvisation is accelerating the evolution.

Innovation always forces more innovation, which leads to new trends and styles and tricks.

Social media and smartphones may be reducing attention spans but the modern mass media saturation grants a whole new level of access to new ideas from other sports.

Hurling though, will still always have its own unique identity.

And the potential to polish that brand with its immense freestyle skill.