Hurling without fans and physicality just doesn't have the same appeal

We all miss the great days in the Páirc or Thurles with Cork supporters roaring on their heroes
Hurling without fans and physicality just doesn't have the same appeal

Patrick Horgan of Cork signs autographs for young fans after the hurling qualifier against Westmeath in 2019. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

CORK and Westmeath this weekend; a throwback to simpler times, when fans could pack the terrace and the concern was if the Rebels were tough enough, not that hurling was going soft.

At the outset of 2020, Cork made very, heavy weather of a league win away to Westmeath, 3-12 to 1-14, while the summer before they’d hit the hosts for 1-40 to 0-20. Neither game was memorable in itself, but in 2019 under the July sun in Mullingar, supporters from both counties were able to mingle on the pitch after and the players stayed on as long as they were required to sign hurleys and jerseys and pose for photos.

Cathal and Peter Downey all smiles with Eoin Cadogan after Cork's win over Westmeath in the 2019 hurling qualifier.
Cathal and Peter Downey all smiles with Eoin Cadogan after Cork's win over Westmeath in the 2019 hurling qualifier.

Those types of ties, with the greatest respect to Westmeath, offer the best opportunity for youngsters to get some time with their heroes. 

Sunday’s clash in Páirc Uí Chaoimh certainly won’t be high-profile, but the absence of the hardcore Rebel faithful will make it even more low-key.

Sport deserves an audience and the FA Cup final was memorable not just for Leicester upsetting the odds against Chelsea but the outpouring of emotion after.

The return of GAA has been a lift to many, helped by RTÉ and TG4’s great coverage and the GAAGo app. Kids, especially, need to have hurling and football heroes to emulate. A five-month gap since the last televised Gaelic games action was damaging with the Premier League on every night and Six Nations and European rugby getting wall-to-wall coverage.

The opening two rounds of the hurling league have been pretty decent. Cork and Tipp last Saturday night was a good match and the finale was thrilling. As was Wexford’s late rally to pip Clare.

Limerick’s clashes with the Premier and Galway were intriguing. Not least for the lop-sided free counts heavily weighed against the All-Ireland champions.

Cork were left frustrated by the 22 frees given against them at Semple Stadium to just nine for, but six of them came from a clear clamp-down on steps and ‘thrown’ handpasses. The last two of those seemed especially unfair but opting to run the sliotar from defence invited pressure on Cork’s backs and they’ll have to learn a lesson, however annoyed they were at referee Johnny Murphy.

In Limerick’s case, their physicality was censured and, even at this early stage, it has to be a concern for John Kiely, who lashed out in his post-match interview last weekend but since then rowed back to concede Galway were the better team. 

Galway’s Evan Niland and Diarmaid Byrnes of Limerick in action. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Galway’s Evan Niland and Diarmaid Byrnes of Limerick in action. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The Shannonsiders do hurl on the edge, from Hurler of the Year Gearóid Hegarty and target-men Aaron Gillane and Seamus Flanagan back, but don’t all winners possess a nasty streak?

Only the Clare team of 2013, in an outlier season, lacked the edge that successful Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway outfits in the 2010s displayed. Cutting out cynicism is grand, we’ve no problem with the GAA amending rules in that regard, but hurling’s unique blend of ferocity and skill must be protected.

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