JOHNNY McINTOSH: Bucking the trend?

I THOUGHT it was brilliantly refreshing that Offaly won the All-Ireland U-20 Championship. It was a brilliant occasion with some brilliant hurling, and they look like a team that have totally broken the mould.

They’re a small, light, athletic team, they’re not full of lads who are all six foot plus. Adam Screeney is the perfect example, I haven’t seen him in person but he looks about 5’10” and seven stone. He certainly built like the typical lad coming through the ranks and I think that’s refreshing and exciting for hurling.

We need more teams like Offaly coming along with different styles of play and different types of players and the problem is when you have a dominant team like Limerick, everyone thinks you have to be a physical monster to play intercounty hurling.

It’ll be interesting to see what Offaly can do at senior level but to be honest I’d have concerns that they can keep it up. Adam Screeney will get his chance, he’ll play against some of the big teams and there’s every chance he’ll have little bearing on the game as he’s so light. He looks so small and thin and I don’t mean to contradict myself but he’ll need to bulk up a bit.

I thought the games last weekend weren’t particularly interesting and that the season in general hasn’t been great, but I don’t think the problem rests with the GAA, I think the problem is with the nature of hurling itself.

It’s difficult to play and yes Limerick have shown that you don’t need to be a Kilkenny, Tipperary or a Cork, but it’s a county with plenty of tradition in their own right and their current success has been a 12-year process at the very least.

If you look at the football, Derry have gone from being a Division Four to Division One team in a matter of a few years and it genuinely wouldn’t surprise me if they win this year’s All-Ireland. Something like that couldn’t happen with hurling. In hurling terms, it would actually be nigh on impossible. It’s like saying the Cavan hurlers would be Division One champions in four or five years, it just couldn’t happen.

It’s the nature of the game, systems are less important in hurling, and to develop top-level hurlers almost takes a life-time of tradition so there’s no easy fix. Even if you look at a county like Antrim, we’re a traditional Ulster hurling side but we’re a long way off the big hitters.

In theory, everyone wants to be playing for the Liam MacCarthy but when it comes down to it, the majority of counties just aren’t able to. The time and money it would take to transform things in a mid-tier county just isn’t feasible.

Just like last year, there’s a sense of inevitability about the race for the All-Ireland. Cork can certainly put it up to Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final and give them something to think about but beating them is another matter entirely. The thing about Limerick is that they’re so good at managing the four-week break. They seem to be able to go away and work on the professional plans they have in place and come out of that break a much-better team, and invariably end up winning yet another All-Ireland.

I certainly admire Limerick and there are aspects of their play and athleticism that are incredible, but if I’m being honest, I don’t actually enjoy their dominance. It doesn’t feel like hurling to me. It’s so unattainable. It’s not the game I watch from week-to-week at club level. It’s like an amateur soccer player watching Barcelona under Pep Guardiola, it’s like a different sport.

So there’s almost a sadness about their success because it just doesn’t seem tangible or reachable. They’ve raised the bar so high that it’s almost ruined it for the rest of us. I always saw hurling as a sport where anyone had a chance, at least among the more traditional counties. There was a sense that if a team got it together in any given year and trained really hard, they could win the All-Ireland. Not it doesn’t seem how hard other teams try, and that when all is said and done, Limerick will win.

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