Splitting the Posts: Soup serves up cold fare
10:45, 05 Nov 2012
All you can ever really hope for in wintry conditions is excitement. That’s all you ever want in any game but the aim is to achieve entertainment because of quality play, not simply because a game is tight.
When you play in mud, you will get stuck — that’s inevitable. Dogged play is what we continually get in these club games across Ireland right now and that’s nothing to do with the players — it’s a by-product of negotiating the difficult weather. GAA sports don’t go well on soft ground… no more so than when sodden in rain and related biting elements.
Take Sunday’s live TG4 clash between Oulart the Ballagh and Kilmacud Crokes at Parnell Park in Dublin. It was massively exciting heading down the final few lengths but it was far from pretty throughout.
Both of these teams have quality players but the conditions foisted upon them by a GAA calendar so inconsiderate to the club game is reductive of their efforts.
We mean this in the sense that a hard sod — which hurling should be played on — makes for a faster game and less, to put it colloquially, shemozzles. At times they were like hens around a turnip, and too often players were trying to kick a ball out of a scrum rather than whipping it up at speed.
We did not and are not getting the type of surface at this time of the year that is most conducive to flowing stuff. Ergo, GAA at club level looks worse than it actually is in reality. Up and down the country, there are teams capable of entertaining us but who are being hampered by the conditions.
Inter-county league games can look turgid in February, but club is being given an even shorter straw because real silverware is being lifted by mucky hands.
Kilkenny’s Michael Fennelly gave an indication of what players are dealing with in between the drawn All-Ireland hurling final and the replay: "Even with the weather and that, and the nights without light in the evening time means we are training that bit earlier. Even the field is not what it was two weeks ago.”
That was in the final week of September; now we are in the clutches of November and the much-deteriorated conditions it brings. The clocks went forward an hour last week too, meaning Crokes and Oulart were training under floodlights and possibly on astro turf — the polar opposite of Parnell right now.
In truth, hurling is not a game suited to floodlights, you need only play or train under them once to realise this. So we now have a situation where teams are training under different conditions to what they are playing in, and perhaps on a different surface type too. That’s not befitting of county silverware and for games beyond.
When possible, floodlights should be avoided so even if the game is to be played in November, it should be at maybe 1pm so that they don’t have to be switched on — as they were on Sunday after the 2:30pm throw in. TV scheduling most likely played a part and so it does for the GAA calendar as a whole.
So often these games are decided by what is commonly referred to as “scuttery goals” and we got one of those at Parnell Park on Sunday. Ross O’Carroll mishit a pointed attempt and Conor Clinton booted it in on the half-volley — a remarkable finish but not classic hurling. Oulart’s goal came from a penalty that never should have been, and again the conditions played a part because a forward simply collapsed under his marker’s shepherding. There was nothing in it, only loose soil.
Rewind a little to when Kilmacud won their Dublin title on the same pitch early last month and a couple of scuttery goals aided their cause then too. In the week leading up to that final, 10 games had been played on the pitch in wet weather, including a Junior B county hurling final as a curtain raiser on the same day. Could the pitch have been preserved better?
When dogged games such as this are so common, it’s no wonder that the club game’s relevance is being diminished. It explains why folk blithely dismiss the quality of club games without taking into account the conditions. Clubs train from January on and are capable of more than scuttery goals, particularly so when we’re talking about the cream of each county.
James Stephens and Ballyhale Shamrocks contain many of the best hurlers of the past decade between them and would produce fantastic hurling any day, yet they might as well have played last year’s Kilkenny county final in the lost city of Atlantis. Likewise with the Clare final, and you can see the pitch pictured above at half-time.
So it will continue as we plod through the club fixtures where potentially classic games are slowed down, and dragged through the mud. Would that good conditions added to the excitement.
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