Q: What links 3-23, 2-19 and 2-23?
A: They were all scoring totals hit by losing teams in Division 1 of the Allianz Hurling League last weekend.
Scorelines have risen these past four years in particular to the stage where it is completely normal for a team to tally 30 points in a game.
But, for context, it’s worth recalling that in 1999, Cork won an All-Ireland final with 0-13. Four years later, Kilkenny won one scoring 1-14, the same cumulative total as Cork again the following season (0-17).
“I think it’s just down to higher skill level,” says Dublin’s Jake Malone of hurling’s latest raging debate. “And if you look at lads these days, the athleticism required to play inter-county is massive.
“So I think it will definitely continue in that trend. And there will be more high-scoring games throughout the summer.”
Last Sunday in Parnell Park, the Dublin hurlers hit 2-23 and lost by five points to Clare, who scored 0-34 from 42 shots.
Mattie Kenny’s team have averaged 26.5 points in the league so far and yet have lost two of their four games.
“To be honest, I can see it going the same way in summer,” says Malone, a double All-Ireland club winner with Cuala.
“I don’t see any reason why those scores won’t be hit again.”
We won’t have to wait long to find out.
Currently, there are two theories circulating about all this frivolous flag-waving.
Theory one posits that advancements in tactical awareness and the skill of ball-striking will preserve the upward trend. Maybe not at the same rate. But without any significant reduction.
The second theory holds that the onset of this year’s championship will be the starting point for a more pragmatic approach from hurling’s leading counties.
Where, in recent seasons, teams put a heavy emphasis on not conceding goals in how they set up, now the defensive focus will shift to avoiding shipping the sort of points totals with which Limerick cantered to last year’s All-Ireland.
Fuelling that is a secondary, related belief that the threshold for physical contact will rise among referees, reducing significantly the number of scoreable frees being awarded.
There is precedent for this.
Last year, Malone played in a league game between Dublin and Wexford in Croke Park in which 50 frees were awarded, prompting Davy Fitzgerald – among others – to declare his fear for the very future of the sport.
By the time the championship came around, referees and players had located a middle ground.
In Parnell Park last Sunday, Tony Kelly scored 16 points from frees. His range and dexterity from angles were hugely impressive.
But he’s not alone in possessing the potential to crucify teams who stumble too often beyond the line of discipline.
“We tackle a lot in training,” says Malone.
“It’s not a case of we forget how to tackle in the league and then come championship, we know how to tackle.
“It might just be that championship is at a higher pace, a higher intensity. So it might be bringing that into the league, it’s called up a bit more by refs.
"We’re not too worried in that regard,” he insists.
“We just need to be smarter in the tackle. There were some tackles there where we were giving away frees where we probably had the man held up and we didn’t need to give away a free but we were over-eager.”
“But that’s what the league is for. You’re making sure you’re getting the right sort of training into lads. Lads know what they’re doing right and wrong in terms of tackling and giving away frees. So you tweak that. And hopefully when it comes to championship, we’re firing on all cylinders.
"So not too worried about that. But maybe we just need to tweak that slightly.
“Because giving away 16 frees to an inter-county team is enough to lose you any match.”