Wednesday 26 October 2016

Hurling should not stay the same: Cusack

Donal Óg says Kilkenny were the first team he noticed dropping forwards into defence

Waterford's Maurice Shanahan
Waterford's Maurice Shanahan

Until roughly around the time Donal Óg Cusack and his short puck-outs forced hurling traditionalists to reluctantly reconsider the most productive use of such a possession, 'tactics' was a largely unused word within the sport.

The fact that players can drive a sliotar 100 odd yards was customarily offered as Exhibit A, B and C that no reconfiguration of the players between the beginning and end point of that strike would make any great difference to how and where it landed.

Ergo, hurling was immune to tactics. Or certainly, the sort of augmented defensive strategies that met with so much distaste when they became widespread in Gaelic football.

Now, and increasingly so in light of Sunday's tangle of a League final, tactics are most prevalent subject when considering how this year's All-Ireland SHC - or any match therein - might unfold.

"The game evolves," Cusack, now a Clare selector, told the Herald, after Sunday's contest finally un-knotted itself for a breathless finale.


What's more is that process had already started before he and his free-thinking Cork team arrived on the scene at the beginning of the millennium.

"Like, Kilkenny - for me - were the first team I ever saw withdraw half-forwards back into their defence and playing extremely deep," he pointed out.

"Even though, for some reason, the general hurling population never kind of….maybe because Kilkenny had so many good forwards, maybe people's minds were drawn away from that fact.

"But I definitely know, from being a player who played against them, they were probably the first team to bring that sort of depth to defence.

"And the game keeps evolving. It's like every sport.

"If someone starts debating that with me, I kind of get tired of that debate.

"Because there is no sport that stays the same and hurling shouldn't stay the same.

"Hurlers are no different to anyone else. They want to keep coming up with new ideas and new ways of doing thing and try and be better.

"And long may that continue, in my mind, that the game keeps evolving."

Colin Ryan, who at 27, has been part of Clare teams without the sort of zippy, laser-touched hurlers who dominate it now, reckoned the game was "pretty manic."

He added that in general, hurling "is a thinking man's game at the minute," and acknowledged "I'd say the neutrals thought it was horrible, the first half.

"But that is just the way the game has gone.

"We all give seven days a week, every week for numerous months of the year," he pointed out.

"And all you want to do is win.

"And that is all we care about. We don't care what the supporters think and did they enjoy it.


"They will enjoy it if they win. I'm sure the Waterford fans would love it if they won an All-Ireland no matter what way they are playing."

For all that, extra-time was gripping.

And the frees converted by Conor McGrath and Maurice Shanahan under severe pressure, were acts to behold.

"They're special things to do," Cusack enthused.

"I remember, since I was a kid, people would talk about there being a big different between going for a winning score and going for the score to equalise.

"In general, the feeling would be that there is a lot more pressure on the score to equalise.

"You just have to stand back and respect those guys."

And despite the natural feeling of fudge-iness that comes with a draw in a final, the mood from both camps was upbeat.

"The prevailing feeling would be that we live to fight another day. I would be positive," Cusack confirmed.

"We're hurling people. We're all hurlers. Where else would you want to be on a Sunday evening?," he concluded. Back here next week in another final.

"I don't have anything better to be doing."

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