Thursday 19 April 2018

Brendan Cummins: I can't see an All-Ireland ever being decided by a shoot-out

Colin Ryan of Limerick scores the winning point during sudden death in the free-taking competition during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 quarter-final match between Limerick and Clare at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Colin Ryan of Limerick scores the winning point during sudden death in the free-taking competition during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 quarter-final match between Limerick and Clare at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

THERE were extraordinary scenes in the Gaelic Grounds last Monday as Limerick’s Colin Ryan etched his name in GAA history to become the first player to strike the winning 65 in a league shoot-out but don’t expect it to become a regular occurrence.

At full-time the sides couldn’t be separated and, as I left to attend a wake, little did I think that the game would still be going on when I returned. But the drama was only beginning.

It was like a hurlathon, the tension was unreal. We often complain about the GAA’s inability to try something a little different but this was thoroughly enjoyable. Of course, as with all competitions, there has to be a loser and this time it was Clare.

While some bemoaned the “unfair” conclusion, it was a lot fairer than asking both teams to meet again a few days later after playing 100 pulsating minutes and with the volume of games, it’s a no-brainer for league fixtures to be completed on the day.

If you have training programmes geared towards the championship, you don’t want to have a week like most county teams had where weather can scuttle all their plans. Managers are training for different peaks and troughs.

They sat down in October or November to plan what they needed to do to prepare for the unique demands of four games in five weeks with a ‘club-only’ month jammed in between and everything is up in the air now in many regards, so another game was not the answer.

The Walsh Cup final between Wexford and Kilkenny was my first exposure to the shoot-out and much like the game five days ago, it was gripping entertainment – although there are several ways to improve it.

Having more than 50 people standing within 10 or 15 metres of the free-taker only leaves room for shenanigans and skulduggery. It’s a set-up more befitting a crossbar challenge at training rather than something important.

Talk of there being too much pressure on the free-takers is also wide of the mark. Since Adam was a boy, footballers and hurlers are performing under stress and pressure so these lads are well able for it.

Having taken 45s and frees for the Tipperary footballers back in the day, I’d love the buzz of it. It’s a fantastic sensation to be standing over a ball knowing that if you miss it you’re gone, that’s the way of life in sport.

What are we going to ask next, that the crowd stay quiet when they take the free like the rugby? That’s part of what we are in the GAA.

However, the powers that be obviously don’t think that there’s any more than five players on an inter-county panel capable of hitting a ball more than 65 yards and the restriction on the same five players taking frees is absurd.

We should be going down through the panel and challenging guys to show what they can do while the camera angles are far from spectator-friendly. It’s less dramatic with everyone looking at the umpire rather than the ball.

I’d favour a penalty shoot-out over a free-taking competition. If you lined everyone on the 45-yard line and you had to make the long walk, it just adds that extra drama. Its origins come from soccer but we’ve had soccer in Croke Park at this stage so that shouldn’t matter.

However, this is all only likely to be a footnote in an article at the start of next year’s league with someone asking ‘will we see the 65 shoot-out again?’.

I don’t ever expect to see an All-Ireland hurling final in my lifetime being decided by 65s or penalties, this is a league model and it just wouldn’t fit into championship.

Online Editors

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