Saturday 25 January 2020

Billy Keane: A washed-up sliotar, a Portuguese man o' war and a nation of bluffers

Limericks' Seamus Hickey and Richie McCarthy keep close tabs on Kilkenny's Mark kelly and TJ Reid last weekend. Our guess
Limericks' Seamus Hickey and Richie McCarthy keep close tabs on Kilkenny's Mark kelly and TJ Reid last weekend. Our guess
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

I have never played the game of hurling but for the next few weeks this columnist has to pretend to know it all, for such is the role of the consultant.

There's a story around our parts about the man walking Beale Strand on the Shannon Estuary who brought a washed-up sliotar to the Dingle Aquarium. The shore-searcher was sure the hurling ball was a Portuguese man o' war, a particularly venomous jellyfish that swims up our way when the waters are at their warmest around this time of year.

There are more bluffers in this country than almost anywhere else on earth, per capita and straight up.

The latest rugby chancer expression is 'checking out'. A player checks out when he or she loses concentration. A genuine rugby man explained it to me thus: "It's like when the wife starts going on about painting the spare room for your mother-in-law who is coming on a short visit which you know will last three months, you check out and go into the spare room in your own head."

It's a lack of focus we're talking about here. There was this lad who came home from college and we were playing in the annual St Stephen's Day game and he was appointed captain for the day. He must have been playing with some lads from Clongowes or Blackrock because he kept shouting out 'focus lads, focus.'

But one of our lads thought there was a 'k' in focus. He turned to me and said, 'Will someone tell that lad to go aisey, sure we're not playing that bad.'

No one could accuse our rugby women of a lack of focus. I once interviewed former captain Rosie Foley, who retired from the Irish team after many years of toil and took up swimming the English Channel. That is the stuff our girls are made of.

Here's my hurling theory, for what it's worth, and that may be very little. The marking isn't as tight in hurling as it is in football. Cork and Tipp will go at it from the off tomorrow but the focus will be on winning the ball as opposed to keeping the other lad from winning it, which is the way football is gone - well in some counties anyway.

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Last Sunday, Limerick marked man to man. There was no lack of concentration. It was just case of Kilkenny scoring two brilliant opportunist goals. There was no more Limerick could do. They gave their all and did their county proud. Close marking is no guarantee of success but it does increase your chances of winning in football. Hurlers tend to attack the ball and sometimes let their men wander off.

Our guess is tomorrow's semi-final will be a more open game. The hurling counties tend to stick to their traditional game. So it is that Kilkenny funnel back when the opposition attack and spread their forwards out wide when they are on the offensive. Limerick like a battle and they never lack courage. The skill is there too.

Cork's game is ground hurling and a first touch that never needs a second coat. Traditional Tipp hurling had much to do with tough backs and accurate striking by forwards who could thread a sliotar through an engagement ring.

Don't go blaming me if all this is balderdash. You hardly think I figured out all this hurling lore on my own. We called up some of the finest hurling brains in the country for advice. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the ash from the oak trees.


There was this old boy who figured out the modus operandi of my late and much-loved father. "John B," he said, "was the smartest man of dem all. He takes down what we says and then he charges us to read it."

I worked for a company and we had these consultants in who took down all we said and then repeated it back to us in a report but with expressions like 'bang for your buck' and hyphenated words such as self-explanatory, which they went on to explain in great detail with a galaxy of asterisks.

It's easy enough to become a consultant. Start off by copying the sums off the lad sitting next to you at school and you're on your way.

This consultant loves hurling with all his heart. Indeed, if a call were to come through tomorrow afternoon from a beachcomber on Beale Strand with the urgent news that a mermaid had been washed up on the golden sands, I would have to pass on a viewing. "Can you ask her if she can hang on for just a little while until the hurling is over?"

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