If Sunday’s National Hurling League final was a great game, or what Brian Cody calls “serious hurling”, and it was certainly up there with the most entertaining finals of recent years, championship included, the observation needs to be made that it was only thus because the rules went out the window.
Tipp were credited for putting it up to Kilkenny physically, the view being that teams have to fight fire with fire if they’re to stand a chance against arguably the finest side of all time.
The refereeing beggared belief, and both teams had reason to feel aggrieved. Perhaps because the experimental rules are being abandoned – again – John Sexton decided in his own head that he’d apply his own version of the laws. Either that or he felt intimidated as to the consequences of any actions he might take in terms of sendings-off in the early days of summer.
Eddie Brennan, who was lucky not to have seen yellow earlier for his part in one of any number of flare-ups, could have got a straight red for what was a reckless charge on Paul Curran. That Tommy Walsh merely got a ticking for throwing his hurley at John O’Brien was laughable, and not for the first time.
It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that if the rules were applied to the letter then the match could well have ended with both sides down to single figures. And you can imagine the outcry then, and that was probably in the back of the ref’s mind.
The GAA goes on and on about indiscipline. But maybe it’s time to get real and recognise hurling for what it is: a mixture of marvellous skill (such as all those goals, and Brendan Cummins’ stupendous save) and plenty of flaking. And that even if you cut down on same of the unsavoury stuff in high-profile games, there’s worse going on unpunished in every club match up and down the country week in, week out. And let’s be honest, for all the moralising there’s an amount of it that we’re happy to put up with. This talk about ‘physically matching’ Kilkenny is to a large extent a euphemism for teams not allowing themselves to be bullied. It’s a licence to do certain things. Just come clean and move on.