IT seemed fitting and a tad ironic that, in what was such a wonderful week for Limerick, that it was one of their own sons that provided the perfect soundbite to the sporting week, albeit he gave it all the way down in Wellington in New Zealand.
In the aftermath of Ireland’s 30-24 victory over the Maori All Blacks, just four days before Ireland historically ceiled their first ever Series victory over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil, Ireland captain, and Limerick native, Keith Earls mentioned how a lot of the younger players had to learn to play ‘big boy rugby’, as they moved up to the next level.
And while the comment was bang-on in terms of describing what the inexperienced Ireland second string side had to do to turn the tables on the Maoris after losing their first encounter 32-17, one can’t help but think that the phrase can also be applied to hurling.
For the record, this is what Earls actually said in his interview in the immediate aftermath of that Irish victory.
"It was very pleasing. In the first game we played the Maori we didn’t help ourselves, our discipline was poor.
A lot of Ireland’s talented youngsters were well off the pace physically and mentally in that first game, but were pitch perfect by game two. They had adapted to ‘big boy rugby’, which requires concentration, intensity and accuracy at all times. Fire in the blood, ice in the brain kind of stuff. The likes of Ciaran Frawley, Joe McCarthy and Cian Prendergast improved immeasurably between games one and two on this score.
With regards how this fits neatly into hurling, it is extremely interesting to note that Tipperary and Cork will both be heading into the 2023 campaign with new managers, as they have turned to Liam Cahill and Pat Ryan.
It has been well documented how Liam Sheedy largely ignored those 2018 and 2019 teams during his last stint as Tipperary boss, concentrating on the older players available to him, and it paid dividends with the 2019 All-Ireland triumph, but the flip side to this approach was that these players did not get to push on and develop.
As seen from Tipp’s performances this year, when a lot of the older brigade were gone, this has now become a serious problem for Tipp. It will now be up to Cahill to turn to those players that he would have been successful with at underage level and to bring them on as the new leaders within the set-up.
Similarly, Pat Ryan will undoubtedly be looking to bolster the current Cork panel with players who produced for him at U20 level. The one difference to Cahill is that Ryan does not have to completely rebuild. The age profile of the Cork squad, bar one or two in their 30s like Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan, is actually quite young, so you would expect the majority of the panel to remain as is.
But perhaps the biggest challenge of all is to get the selected players to buy into, and perfect, what can only be described as ‘big boy hurling’.
Obviously this means matching them on the physical front, but it also means being as clever as them, as efficient as them, as intense as them.
Against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final they gobbled up well over 60% of their own long puck-outs, whereas Kilkenny could only gather about 40% of theirs. In a three-point game that is the winning and losing of the match right there. Of course, it helps when Nicky Quaid can bomb 13 puck-outs down on top of Gearoid Hegarty and he can secure 11 of them.
It is going to be extremely interesting to watch how Cahill and Ryan get on in their respective posts, as not only must they help their respective teams adapt to ‘big boy hurling’, but they themselves must adapt to ‘big boy hurling management’ too.