A thought began swirling around in my head after the Clare – Tipperary game which formed into a fully-fledged lightbulb after this weekend’s round of matches. Colin Ryan’s excellent performance from frees against Tipp was matched by one from Alan McCrabbe for Dublin yesterday. It seems that any team with pretensions to excellence in hurling has to have a player who can rattle over dead balls from anywhere inside the 65 metre line. Having someone with that talent is not a sufficient condition for success – Kieran Delahunty couldn’t save Waterford back in the 80’s – but it is surely a necessary one.
Which made the display of shooting in the game between Monaghan and Armagh in Clones on Saturday so shocking. Anything more a than a few metres either side of the posts seemed to go wide, and rarely by a small margin. Paul Finlay kept on missing, yet no one seemed willing to step up to replace him, which suggested that out of his fourteen teammates there was no plan B were to have a ‘mare.
If free taking in football has gone to pot, why? Jimmy Keaveney, another top free taker in his day, has observed that it more reliable to kick off the ground as kicking from the hand involves dropping the ball on to your foot. Maybe it’s a low percentage opportunity. It isn’t an easy thing to strike a football at the best of times, and investing the time and effort in training to perfect the skill like, say, Charlie Redmond used do isn’t worth the effort.
Whatever it is, the art of free taking, so marvellously displayed in the past by the likes of Larry Tompkins, Brian Stafford and Maurice Fitzgerald, seems to be dead in football just as it is all the rage in hurling.