TACTICS don’t play a big part in hurling because the game is so fast and hard it is almost impossible to play to a rigid or set structure for 70 minutes.
Kilkenny selector Martin Fogarty has been part of the backroom team during five successful All-Ireland campaigns, and if the experience taught him one thing it was that hurling is a unique game that produces the best results when played flat out.
“Hurling will always be a simple game because you can’t slow it down, you have to play it at full pace all the time,” suggested the Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) clubman when it was suggested Galway had a fair tactical plan that paid off in the Leinster final.
“They don’t pack their defence as many suggested they did,” he continued. “I was at a couple of their matches this year and they don’t pack their defence any more than anyone else. When they brought an extra man back on Pa Cronin in the semi-final people started taking about football tactics, blanket defence and all that.
“They don’t do that. They play the game more or less the same as any other team, which is actually not planned. You can’t really plan hurling the ball moves around so fast.
“People often make too much of small things in hurling. If there is a 1-on-1 situation in front of goal and a team scores suddenly they have a tactic of pulling out the forwards. You could get a goal with 10 in the square as well.
“I don’t buy into that too much. Games pan out in different ways. People are always talking, always writing and reading things into situations that don’t exist.”
The former All-Ireland under-21 winning manager said people were always suggesting the game had changed. It hasn’t.
“I remember Frank Cummins sitting back between the half-back and full-back line for Kilkenny on a windy day years ago,” he smiled. “That just happened. It may or may not have been a tactic.
“Players and teams adjust to different situations on any given day. The team that wins suddenly have great tactics. Hurling is different than football, than other games. You can’t play it on a board, on a wall. You can’t slow it down. That is the way I see it.”
The Leinster final result, whatever way Galway played, wasn’t a shock to the system as far as Mr Fogarty was concerned. The simple story was that Galway were better team on the day.
“We acknowledge, and always have, that every day we go out we can be beaten,” he continued. “We know that if we don’t manage to get at least 13 of our players performing at the top of their game, and it is hard to do that, then there is a good chance we will be beaten.
“If you go out and our team doesn’t play to its max, and the other team doesn’t either, then you could possibly win. In the Leinster final we weren’t good. Galway were good. We got hammered. We didn’t like it. But it was not a shock to the system.”
The challenge now was to try and win the All-Ireland.
“It is nice to be back in it,” he smiled. “It was a quick year. It is no surprise to us that Galway are in the final. Their success at club and under-age level has been outstanding. They are now where they deserve to be and we will have to pull out all the stops to beat them.
“The only surprise is that Galway haven’t won a senior final for so long. Year in and year out they have been producing the best of minor and under-21 teams. They have been caught by a few points here and there in semis and maybe didn’t make it through. They always have players who are better than most players in most counties.”
He knows the Galway management team, having come up against them at under-21 level a few years ago. They will have the players flying.
“We have a huge task ahead,” he insisted. “Galway came out and totally expressed themselves as they can in the Leinster final and we felt the brunt of it. For us to turn that around we are going to have to be absolutely on top of our game. Even at that, it will still be hard work.
What about the suggestion that it would be hugely difficult for Galway to beat Kilkenny twice in the same championship?
“That is nonsense,” Fogarty insisted. “If we can’t find our best form, the McCarthy Cup will be going across the Shannon.”
And Kilkenny won’t be playing on this famous “edge”, as it has become known, in a bid to retain the cup.
“The edge as far as I am concerned is that you compete as hard as you can to win, whether that is in hurling, cycling, swimming, golf or anything,” was the way Mr Fogarty put it when he addressed this issue that has annoyed Kilkenny officials for ages. “That is the edge to which you are absolutely driven to win. Certainly Kilkenny are.
“If the players weren’t, we wouldn’t be happy. People, I suppose, might suggest that the edge would involve dirt. That couldn’t be farther from the point. Kilkenny compete very, very hard, very, very fair. They try and win.
Can’t concede frees
“We wouldn’t condone dirt for a moment. The way the game is today with free takers of the calibre they are you have to send teams out in every match to do their utmost not to conceded frees; to play the ball, to play fair, to play hard. I suppose there is a certain element in the country who are tired looked at Kilkenny.
“I would challenge anyone to sit down and look at a video of our last match as an example and point out any things we did wrong. I am certain there were no examples of bad play.
“If we had a player who we were worried would leave the team with 14 men we wouldn’t put him out. Now, if we had a player who was going to back off, not give 100% and challenge 100% for every ball, we wouldn’t put him either. People can work that one out themselves.
“If that is the edge, yea, we play on it. As regards trying to be dirty or anything like that, we wouldn’t have it, end of story. Our lads to out to hurl, to hurl hard but to hurl fair.”