Bring ground hurling skill back, Liam

I have not yet seen the terms of reference for Liam Sheedy’s Hurling Task Force, but I expect that the group chosen by GAA President Liam O’Neill is already up and running, writes Nickey Brennan.

I have not yet seen the terms of reference for Liam Sheedy’s Hurling Task Force, but I expect that the group chosen by GAA President Liam O’Neill is already up and running, writes Nickey Brennan.

I saw an interesting video clip recently where some national journalists were discussing the state of hurling. Many interesting points were raised, but none mentioned the playing skills of the game.

The biggest impediment to promoting hurling in a number of counties is, according to one of the group, Gaelic football. How often have I heard that?

When it comes to the GAA, tradition is at the heart of much of what we do. Here in Kilkenny hurling has become such a dominant game that Gaelic football is close to extinction.

It is still played, but the stark reality is that the football receives little respect from the majority of clubs and the county’s non-participation at inter-county level (bar under-age) is a sad reflection on things here.

Hurling has the same difficulties in many counties, albeit that every county bar Cavan currently participates in the National League. The Breffni County is at present promoting an under-age hurling programme and competing in a range of provincial and national competitions with a view to re-entering the Hurling League.

Liam Sheedy’s group will not be the first to consider how hurling can be further developed, assuming they have that issue on the agenda. The GAA has invested significant funds to help counties at Lory Meagher and Nicky Rackard levels.

It is no harm getting a fresh group to consider the state of the game, and while I look forward to hearing what they have to say, I am not expecting dramatic outcomes.

At Congress GAA President, Liam O’Neill, announced a five-year funding scheme for a number of counties at Tier 2 level. This funding is principally aimed at improving the preparation of senior inter-county sides to make them more competitive against Tier 1 opposition.

It will be 2015 before that scheme starts to show benefits but, hopefully, it will help the respective counties to achieve the primary objective of competing against stronger opposition.

Much has been made in recent weeks of the round-robin competition in Leinster which has already seen Carlow, Westmeath and London finished with championship hurling for the year.

The video discussion mentioned the scrapping of the provincial competitions in favour of a full open draw. That is not going to happen, not for the foreseeable future.

The impact of Third Level games on the inter-county scene, and more especially on the welfare of young players, was also mentioned. This is a far greater problem for Gaelic football, but I accept that causes difficulties for hurling also.

I hope Liam Sheedy’s group will consider all of the above issues, but it might also consider how a very important skill in hurling has disappeared from the game. One of the most unsightly scenes in modern day hurling is what can only be called ‘a hurling scrum’.

How often do we see a group of players around a ball with little prospect of anyone gaining possession? The inevitable outcome is a hop ball. This phenomenon started at inter-county level but has now been copied in every grade. It adds nothing to hurling.

The development of ‘the hurling scrum’ coincided with an almost total disappearance of ground hurling from the game. Ground hurling is a great skill. Efforts much be made to restore it.

One solution might be to make ground hurling mandatory in the opening 10 minutes in both halves in all under-age club league games, thus compelling young players to learn the skill. The hope is that as they move out of the minor grade they will see the benefits of ground hurling.

Liam Sheedy and his Task Force would do hurling a big favour if the skill of ground hurling was rewarded in the modern game.