With all due respect Wifi, you must either be blind or have a different definition of what constitutes the core skills of hurling from the rest of us to think that. I said previously I didn't want to go into the shortcomings of individual players given their amateur status but it’s impossible for me to illustrate how wrong you are on this without making reference to some particular examples. So I’ll take just one example of a player both you and I would have on our starting 15 even if everybody was available.
Eamon Dillon has arguably been our best forward this season but doesn’t have enough confidence in his ability to strike the ball on his right side to do so unless he’s in yards of space (and even then he’ll only shoot off his right at close range). The penalty incident in the video below of the Limerick NHL Quarter Final (watch from 3:53) demonstrates this perfectly.
When he receives the ball, he’s free of his marker and should carry on his run across the edge of the large rectangle for a few more steps before drilling a shot off his right side. But even from 13 meters out, he doesn’t back himself to generate enough power to beat the keeper, so cuts back so that he can strike it off his left, allowing the defender to get a tackle on him. In this case it was an illegal one but that’s beside the point – Trollier’s onesidedness allowed the defender a chance to prevent a goal he wouldn’t have got against a starting corner forward on any genuinely top-level team, naturally weaker side or not. Johnjo Farrell had to wait until he was 27 to make his Intercounty debut for the Cats. He took the point where he skinned Gougher out on the sideline off his right and buried the goal off his left. I couldn’t tell you which is his natural side but evidently he’s perfectly proficient on the other.
Learning to strike on your weak side is a skill I’d expect a player who’s going to make a top-level Intercounty hurler to have mastered before he’s had his first shave. It makes such a difference to the time and space needed to execute a shot or clearance. The one sided player is much more predictable, his marker knows he’s always going to have to position himself a certain way to strike the ball so blocking or hooking him becomes a lot easier. He also doesn’t have to worry about whether he’ll try to cut inside/outside him in a given instance as he knows he’s not going to put himself on his wrong side before striking the ball. In short, they’re much less effective at the highest level. This is reflected in Eamon’s scoring return in Championship against top sides.
Another glaring weakness in his game is gathering ball for which he ought to be favourite. I’m probably being generous to him if I say he wins 1 in 4 balls played at any pace towards him at ground level. He gets out in front alright but the ball just goes past him so much of the time. That sort of ball ought to be meat and drink to an inside forward, Dotsy or Paul Ryan will win 9 out of 10 of those once he can get there first. Even one of our best chances of a goal the other night (when Holden slipped on the stand side) came from a ball that Trollier should easily have gathered into him and he just got lucky that in missing it he wrongfooted Holden.
Despite all that, I’d start him every game because he’s definitely in our top 6 forwards. But it says a lot about the skill level among our forward options that a one-sided player who normally fails to take possession of clean ball played his way is somebody almost all of us would start every day. In fairness to Dillon, I could go through a lot of our other forward options and point out pretty basic skills they can’t execute well.
Another very poor habit we have throughout the team that really came back to hurt us on Saturday night is the over reliance on roll lifting the ball. Many players will prefer roll lifting as opposed to scooping up the ball given the choice (as it’s easier to control the sliotar) and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it if the circumstances allow. The catch is that to execute it properly you need to be stationary, so it should only be employed when a player has plenty of time and space or else is already standing still. Too often our lads run on to a loose ball, stop, try to roll lift it and either have it tapped away from them or are surrounded by opposition players by the time they do get it into their hand, a problem exacerbated by how slowly so many of our lads tend to execute it. The advantage of the scoop lift (ie getting the hurl directly under the ball and lifting it) is that it can be executed while running so you can get away from opponents, though the faster you’re going the more difficult it is to execute properly. The scoop lift executed on the run is to my mind probably the most underrated and among the most useful skills in the game, it gets players out of rucks quickly and often into acres of space because of the crowd scene that’s developed around where the ball has just been. It’s striking how closely proficiency at it corresponds with a team’s standing and success. Kilkenny excel at it, we don’t sadly and that difference was painfully obvious in Portlaoise, as our inability to get the ball into our possession quickly saw us bottled up and turn over the ball repeatedly. If you can get a recording of the game go back and watch just how many times this happened on Saturday, I roared myself hoarse in frustration at how many times we did this. And it's been a failing of ours under pressure for as long as I can remember.
It goes without saying that while Cunningham may be responsible for some of our problems, none of the above can be laid at his door and nor will they disappear when he goes, for most of the players people want to see back in the team have been just as guilty of failing to execute core skills as the lads in now.