Cork hurlers realising that physicality is the foundation for modern success

Rebels have struggled with the increased conditioning of current champions Limerick
Cork hurlers realising that physicality is the foundation for modern success

Stephen Bennett of Waterford with the support of team-mate Patrick Curran is tackled by Luke Meade and Ciarán Joyce of Cork. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

IT should come as no great surprise to read that the rules of the game of hurling are archaic and in a lot of cases obsolete, with them requiring a major overhaul to bring them in line with the modern game.

For instance, let’s discuss the tackle, as according to the official rules of the GAA (Rule 1.9) one can only tackle an opponent in hurling by making “a shoulder to shoulder charge on an opponent” or alternatively playing the ball.

I think we can all agree that ‘tackles’ in modern hurling involve a lot more than just shoulder-to-shoulder challenges. 

In fact, by the rules of the game, every hook you see is actually a foul, as one cannot “strike an opponent’s hurley unless both players are in the act of playing the ball”. 

So, the next time you see a brilliant hook executed to perfection know that by the laws of the game it should actually be a free. Ultimately, the point is that the rules of the game require amendment. 

Everyone knows this and this is why we have reached a situation where the rules are now effectively completely open to interpretation. 

Who would want to be a referee?

But until the rules are changed the game is going to be dominated by the teams who interpret or bend the rules best to their advantage, and this is probably one of the reasons why Cork have struggled to compete at inter-county level for the past 17 years.

Alan Connolly kicks a goal despite being tackled by Clare's Rory Hayes and Diarmuid Ryan at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles. Pic: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Alan Connolly kicks a goal despite being tackled by Clare's Rory Hayes and Diarmuid Ryan at FBD Semple Stadium in Thurles. Pic: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Most readers will accept that Cork club hurling games can be whistle happy affairs as referees in the county pretty much stick to the rules of the game, but as other counties, such as Kilkenny and Limerick, have long ago effectively abandoned some of the rules, that leaves Cork sides at a distinct disadvantage when they come face to face with teams who are conditioned to play the game with a referee that is happy to leave the whistle in the pocket.

The reality is that pretty much every single ‘tackle’ in hurling is in fact a foul, but coaches have long since realised that referees won’t, and simply cannot, blow for every single one, so as long as you are clever about it you will probably get away with it.

And the reality is that we all, to a large degree at least, like this approach. 

We are all a little guilty of the ‘wink wink’, ‘isn’t it a great manly game’ outlook that most hurling analysts convey on our behalf. It provides for great entertainment, excitement and drama, and we would not change it for the world.

The only issue arises when the team you support seem to be the one side sticking most rigidly to the defined rules of the game when almost everyone else has reached some silent agreement that they are no longer required.

Cork are actually putting themselves at a disadvantage in this area, as their players are simply not conditioned to playing physical sides like Limerick as the rules of engagement are significantly different when facing John Kiely’s team.


If you take a look back at any of the recent Cork v Limerick championship games, a stereotypical Limerick score would be a Limerick player striking the ball over the bar in acres of space. A Cork score might be someone like Robbie O’Flynn or Darragh Fitzgibbon withstanding three or four belts as they run through and slot over under serious pressure. 

They look like different sports, and the Cork players appear to have to work far harder for their scores.

The reason for this is that they are out of their comfort zone and Limerick are within theirs. Limerick are used to giving belts and taking them. 

They are conditioned. The rules of the game have long since been altered or abandoned on Shannonside. 

You can even see it in their reaction to one of their players being penalised for a head-high challenge or reckless foul. 

There is genuine surprise, as they are used to giving and receiving this kind of treatment in their own in-house games and that is why they look so comfortable when games get physical.

Cork teams end up resembling Marty Whelan every year when every single time he seems genuinely shocked that whatever song Ireland has sent to the Eurovision has not been deemed good enough to reach the Eurovision final. 

Marty and Cork need to realise that it is not the '90s anymore and there are different rules afoot.

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