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Kyle Hayes of Limerick in action against Larlaith Daly of Waterford during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1A clash

Kyle Hayes of Limerick in action against Larlaith Daly of Waterford during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1A clash

Kyle Hayes of Limerick in action against Larlaith Daly of Waterford during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1A clash

The Hurling Man is facing a crisis of existence.

His worst nightmare has come to pass. Hurling has turned into a bastardised version of Gaelic football.

In truth, Hurling Man is a sporting snob. All his life he has looked down on football.

At times he even had pity on the poor sods who devoted their lives to the big ball game.

What an ugly spectacle it was, with swarm defences, sweepers, mauls forming around the ball, endless hand passing and cynical fouling.

Now, the unthinkable has happened. The best Gaelic football games are far more entertaining to watch than their hurling counterparts.

The greatest field game in the world appears mired in a tactical cesspit.

Let us remember though that perception is more important than reality in a world obsessed with what appears on social media.

Certainly, hurling faces challenges but it is a bit of a stretch to suggest the game is in crisis.

This season’s league was always going to be a damp squib. The success of any competition in any sports depends on risk and reward. There is precious little of either in Division 1 in 2021.

There is no league final planned unless the top teams in Division 1A and 1B happen to face each other in the championship.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the table, none of the top sides are in any real danger of losing their Division 1 status.

The GAA’s decision to expand Division 1 to 12 teams and split it into two sections was understandable given the absolute necessity to increase the number of counties who can compete at the highest level.

The downside of the structural reform was that the leading sides no longer face the possibility of relegation. This season Westmeath are the ‘fall guys’ in Division 1A.

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Galway and Waterford – who fielded what was essentially a second string against them – and Cork have beaten Westmeath by a combined tally of 66 points.

Granted Division 1B is slightly more competitive and Antrim failed to follow the script with their first-round defeat of Clare. Still, it will be a big surprise if Antrim or Laois don’t end up in the relegation play-off against Westmeath.

Essentially the 2021 league is akin to the pre-season Walsh Cup or Munster Senior League which nobody paid much heed to in the pre Covid-19 era.

We cannot completely ignore Limerick’s failure to win a game so far or Cork’s new emphasis on goal-scoring – in their three matches they have hit 14 compared to 12 in the full competition in 2021. But nobody is talking too much about trends yet.

Contrast this with what faces the football counties. The four divisions have been split in half, which means there are only three games in the round-robin phase.

Every match is crucial, as one loss not only jeopardises promotion but leaves the team in the relegation zone.

Even though Hurling Man might beg to differ, hurling’s metamorphosis into a version of Gaelic football played with a stick and a sliotar has been a gradual process.

The deployment of a sweeper, the use of short-hand passes and the sight of ugly rucks forming around the sliotar are not new.

But rather than face the reality that hurling coaches have borrowed some of the worst aspects of Gaelic football, Hurling Man has found a scapegoat.

Panellists, analysts and keyboard warriors are all blaming referees.

What’s their crime?

They have decided to implement the rules and stop turning a blind eye to all the throws which masquerade as hand passes, the four-step rule and the myriad of illegal challenges which occur when opponents surround a player in possession.

Mind you, despite the hysteria, there has only been a marginal increase in the number of frees being awarded.

Beware of pundits who make comments like ‘let the game flow’ or ‘the referee needs to show common-sense’.

What those comments mean is that the referee should ignore most of the fouls and allow the law of the jungle to prevail.

Rest assured, much of the hullabaloo will pass come the championship.

Hurling Man will be able to relax - although the underlying problems remain.

It took Gaelic football the guts of 15 years to rid itself of the worst excesses of defensive systems – and they haven’t disappeared.

I’m afraid like Covid-19, the new age of hurling is going to be with us for quite some time.

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