HENRY SHEFFLIN SAYS he isn’t worried about the current health of hurling, despite some concerns the game is heading in the wrong direction as a spectacle.
A growing trend of possession-based games, as well as the high number of frees being awarded and perceived lower levels of physicality has led to some suggestions the game is losing it’s entertainment value, with Shefflin’s former teammate Richie Power earlier this week describing some of the recent league games as ‘hard to watch’.
However 10-time All-Ireland winner Shefflin doesn’t see any major cause for concern.
“There’s two things for me,” Shefflin says.
“The reduction in goal-scoring… I don’t have the stats here in front of me, but obviously we can see that happening. Obviously the other thing then is the retention of possession and playing through the lines. That physical contact of the one-to-one battles is gone out of it a little bit.
“I think the entertainment value of not having spectators there last year didn’t help and it hasn’t helped so far this year. I think that will improve it. So I don’t see a drastic (decline). I think we’ve seen some great games, and I think it’s too quick to jump (to conclusions).
“I think Waterford-Kilkenny last year with a full house would have been a marvelous game, and obviously some of the semi-finals the previous year as well. I think just like football, it will evolve, and teams will realise that they can’t maybe out-point Limerick so they will have to get a couple of goals.
“How do you do it? ‘Maybe instead of going through the lines, we go through the lines to a certain phase and have a target man, or someone inside that’s going to stay close to the goals, and let’s get some balls in there and try and muster up a couple of goal opportunities and take advantage of that’.
That’s my sense, but I wouldn’t be one for saying ‘no, it’s devalued’ or the entertainment value is reduced. I don’t think that, and I think teams will improve and evolve as they go. And they’ll have to. What you find, and I’m sure it’s the same in football, is that when a team comes along like Limerick and they play the style they do, a lot of people try to mirror that. But they’ll eventually realise that they need to change it and go with something different. I think teams will do that.”
Shefflin still sees Limerick as the team to beat this summer despite their early season struggles in the league, but feels his own county – who last won the Liam MacCarthy in 2015 – aren’t too far down the list when it comes to discussing All-Ireland contenders.
“I actually think Galway are next, after Limerick,” Shefflin says, “but I think Kilkenny, Tipp, Waterford, Wexford probably… I think Kilkenny would be just slightly below Galway. I would rank Galway next, but I think Kilkenny are very much there.
TJ Reid remains the key man for Brian Cody and Kilkenny.
Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
“Obviously the form of TJ (Reid) and the way TJ is playing is one of the major things, and I think the changes they’ve made – they’ve new backroom teams in, there’s a bit of freshness to their play last Sunday, so I think they won’t be too far away.
“The one thing I referenced is a lot of teams try to mirror what Limerick do. Kilkenny (do that) to a certain extent, but you saw last week (against Wexford) that they’re well able to mix it and (they have) that variety in play and they can score goals. So, because of that, I think they are (in the race).
“You think about it, the score at half-time against Waterford (last year)… It could very easily have been Kilkenny in an All-Ireland final last year, so they’re not far away at all, we’re hoping anyway.
“But I actually think, and I think last week’s performance (against Wexford) definitely will give a lot of confidence, playing against a system like that, that they’ve probably struggled with previously. I think they’ll take a lot confidence from that, and I think the championship suits them … Brian puts a big focus on the league, they won’t have a league final and they can look forward then (to championship).”
And while TJ Reid has once again been the star man for Brian Cody’s side – scoring 1-18 against Wexford last weekend – Shefflin has been encouraged by the displays of some of the Kilkenny supporting cast.
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“Billy Ryan being back last week was a massive plus, he’s been injured a lot of the time” Shefflin says.
“He adds something different; he’s very fast, very direct, and he’s very strong as well. And when you look at the Limerick team, they’re the kind of players that can trouble a Limerick defence because that’s what you have to be.
“The direct play is the interesting one, because so many forwards now are playing in front of themselves, while Billy is one of those players – and there’s not many of them around, I know myself, I was more myself a playing in front of my (opponent) style player – I think those players who can get a ball and turn. Look at Con O’Callaghan in football, he’s the one who springs to mind straight away – they are the dangerous players. I think he has that in his locker, so it’s to get him injury-free and get him a run of it … it was good to see him back last week.
“Richie Reid at midfield, Darragh Corcoran has done well at wing-back, and obviously James Bergin has done well enough as well.
“Then it’s looking for the spine of the team – looks like Eoin (Murphy), Huw Lawlor, Padraig (Walsh) seems to be settling well into centre-back. From there the talent is up front, there’s no doubt about that.”
Kilkenny legend Henry Shefflin was speaking at the launch of the Allianz League Legends series in Dublin. This year marks the 29th season that Allianz has sponsored the competition, making it one of the longest sponsorships in Irish sport.
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