Pat Spillane: 'Hurling is not the Shangri-La game it is made out to be and the application of the rules is laughable'
Read Pat Spillane every week in the Sunday World
I'm not a hurling man and I know it’s basically heresy for me to criticise the Game of the Gods.
However, given the absence of my usual quota of live Gaelic football on TV last weekend, I watched a lot of action from the hurling league, as well as the two Fitzgibbon Cup semi-finals.
Hurling might be portrayed as the greatest field game in the world, but on the basis of what I witnessed it is not the Shangri-La game it is made out to be.
For starters, the application of the rules is laughable. It’s actually a case of: What Rules?
Hurling referees adopt a totally a la carte approach to blowing the whistle: they blow up for about one in five fouls and will let the game flow at all costs.
This spring there has been a half-hearted attempted to crack down on illegal hand-passes, but the decision irked the hurling fraternity, even though it is blindingly obvious that hurlers have been throwing the sliotar for years.
Furthermore, there is a specific issue impacting on the current league. Due to a restructuring in the format of the competition, no team is being relegated from Division 1A this spring.
Four of the six teams in both Division 1A and 1B will qualify for the quarter-finals and the only issue really at stake is which team will be relegated from Division 1B. This has robbed the league of much of its competitive bite.
I thought I was watching a pre-season challenge game when I tuned into the Cork v Clare league tie, such was the lack of intensity.
The fans are clearly fed up, with only about 4,000 present to witness the non-event in Páirc Uí Rinn. Hours earlier more than 7,000 watched the all-Cork Harty Cup final at the same venue.
Maybe the black sheep in the GAA family, Gaelic football, is not so bad after all.
Mercifully, I did get my football fix in the form of the All-Ireland club and Sigerson Cup semi-finals.
Unfortunately, the GAA made a complete dog’s dinner of the fixtures – originally all four games were scheduled for last Saturday. As Oliver Hardy used to say to Stan Laurel: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”
Corofin’s Liam Silke and Kieran Molloy were also due to play for UCD and NUIG respectively.
At least some common sense prevailed and the semi-final between NUIG and UCC was postponed for 24 hours, which allowed Molloy to feature in both games. However, he still had to play in two All-Ireland semi-finals in the space of 24 hours.
Silke, who was outstanding against Gaoth Dobhair, missed UCD’s shock Sigerson loss to St Mary’s. Had he been available, maybe the outcome would have been different.
What’s unforgivable is that exactly the same problem arose last year. Having played for Corofin in the club semi-final, Molloy got a Garda escort from Tullamore to Santry and featured in the second-half for NUIG in their Sigerson final loss to UCD.
It beggars belief that all the stake-holders couldn’t have sat around a table and thrashed out a deal to avoid this clash.
The root cause of the problem is the GAA’s refusal to complete the All-Ireland club championship in a calendar year. The last of the provincial club football finals was played on December 9, yet it takes 14 weeks to play the remaining three games in the series. It’s utter madness.
Furthermore, two weeks after featuring in the All-Ireland club final on St Patrick’s Day, Dr Crokes will be in action in the 2019 Kerry club championship.
The scheduling of the Sigerson Cup also needs to be addressed because it is played at the same time as the first four rounds of the Allianz League.
At a result, the country’s most talented young footballers face a schedule which seasoned professional footballers would baulk at.
Take the case of 20-year-old Sean O’Shea, whose scoring exploits for Kerry have caught the eye this spring.
Last Sunday he starred for UCC in their Sigerson Cup win over NUIG and hit 0-7 on Wednesday in their final win over St Mary’s.
He is now due to line out this afternoon for Kerry against Galway. Hopefully common sense will prevail and he will be rested.
On the basis of these cases, player welfare is low on the GAA’s priority list. And what is the GPA doing about this abuse of its youngest members?
Finally, after they bowed out last weekend, let me congratulate Gaoth Dobhair and Mullinalaghta for their wonderful contribution to the club championship this year.
However, I’m excited already about next month’s final between Dr Crokes and Corofin, two outstanding teams who play football the way it was meant to be played.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. Last year’s All-Ireland winners, Dublin (senior), Kildare (U-20), Kerry (U-17), Corofin (club) as well as this year’s junior and intermediate champions, Beaufort and Kilcummin, have one thing in common – they all play an exciting brand of attacking football. Just saying!
Subscribe to The Throw-In, Independent.ie's weekly Championship podcast, for the best in GAA discussion and analysis every Monday, with some of the biggest names in football and hurling from Joe Brolly, Tomás Ó'Sé, Brendan Cummins and John Mullane.