Hurling is facing a similar problem to golf with striking distances, says Jamesie O’Connor

In recent days, there has been a lot of talk about the direction in which hurling is headed.

I must preface any comments by saying there is so much right with our sport. We should not get swallowed up in doomsday talk.

Sometimes, we’re all guilty of jumping to conclusions. We must remember there have only been two rounds of the National League played, and that is after a three-week pre-season.

Players are rusty. Referees are rusty. And that, in part, could be responsible for the high free-counts. Often, it just takes time to iron things out.

Maybe as referees get into the groove, they are more likely to let things go.

Nonetheless, some issues are arising.

Free-taking competitions?

The manner in which Jason Forde nonchalantly stroked over a free from deep inside his own half against Cork on Saturday night sparked a discussion.

In the 2018 Leinster Championship match between Dublin and Kilkenny, the Dublin forwards gave away four innocuous frees which Eoin Murphy pointed from well within in own half. Crazy distances. It just felt that was a very heavy price to pay for Dublin, after what were relatively inoffensive fouls.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

I don’t have any great interest in watching a Joe Canning, Patrick Horgan or Jason Forde trotting out from the inside forward lines deep into their own half-back line to slot a free.

The time it takes kills the flow of a game. For me, it detracts from the sport as a spectacle.

What is the solution? People have suggested changing the weight of the sliotar.

There is no denying in recent years that there have been a number of factors that have increased striking distances. Strength and conditioning in the sport has never been so advanced. Meanwhile, hurleys these days have far bigger sweet spots.

We have seen golf battle similar issues, where maybe they have let the problem grow to such an extent that it is too late to reverse. Players are able to drive the ball further. So now every golf course has to be longer.

This weekend’s PGA Championship will be a record length for a major tournament, almost 8,000 yards!

Despite calls from Jack Nicklaus and some other elder statesmen for years that they might have to look at dialling it back, they’ve let it develop further. Finally, maybe they now have reached a consensus that it’s time to change.

Will the GAA reach a similar conclusion with hurling?

The distances sliotars are travelling may be a talking point over the coming months.

Rising free counts

The spotlight was on the free-count in Salthill on Sunday, after John Kiely’s post-match comments.

Limerick and Galway are two of the top sides in the country. But with all top teams, be it Clare or Offaly in the 1990s, or Kilkenny in the 2000s, they usually are playing as close to the edge as they can without crossing the line. ‘How far can we go before the referee will penalise us?’

But back when I played, the aim was to get the ball and get rid of it. Now there is more of an emphasis on possession, taking the ball into contact and breaking the tackle.

For defenders, they try to slightly tug their opponent’s arm.

Maybe the referees need to be given clearer guidance on what defines a tackle. When it comes to physicality in the game, perhaps too much of it is grey, rather than black and white. Perhaps it needs cleaning up, to make the sport easier to referee.

When you see free counts rising like they have been, we have to a better job and find a way of allowing the game to flow.

At the same time, a balance must be found with refereeing. You cannot have anarchy. You cannot let everything go.

I think the new advantage rule is also an issue. There was more discretion at the referees’ disposal last year to let the play develop. Whereas now, they’ve got to call it earlier.

Galway lay down a marker

As for the action itself, there is no doubting that the Tribesmen delivered the result of the weekend.

Limerick will view Shane O’Neill’s charges as one of their biggest threats in the race for the Liam MacCarthy Cup. They will not have wanted to give them an edge.

The Treaty’s players often reference their 2018 win in Pearse Stadium as a real turning point for the group. They were going away to the All-Ireland champions, and they clawed out a result. They took massive confidence from that.

Will Sunday prove to be similar for Galway?

It was an important win for them. Limerick have had their number in recent years, and Sunday will give them belief.

But it’s still very early in the year. There’s still a lot of hurling to be played, and a lot of developments before the championship.

It was important at this point in time, but no more than that.

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