If you want to catch puck-outs, watch and learn from the Waterford master 1 week ago

If you want to catch puck-outs, watch and learn from the Waterford master

If you go back to the 2000s, you'll find yourself in a time when there were only three certainties in life.

Death, taxes and JJ Delaney catching opposition puck-outs. The Fenians club-man is no giant, but he had a method and a bravery that made him one of the best players the sky has ever met.

Under the dropping ball, JJ was sensational and he was insatiable but even the great man himself wouldn't fancy a day out beside Jack Fagan.

With his sky-diving, The Waterford hurler didn't just revolutionise but electrified the 2020 Championship and as hurling people watch on with their mouths open, Fagan swimming through clean air, it clears up any confusion, for once and for all, as to what counts as the most exhilarating skill in the game.

"He gets off the ground which is a huge thing," says Sky Sports analyst JJ Delaney of Fagan's gift.

"A lot of forwards let the back kind of sit on them, as they stay there with their feet planted, but Jack Fagan there, he jumps off the ground which makes himself a bigger target. When he jumps up then, it's hard for a back behind him to even know where the ball is."

Take the goal below for example, when Fagan's bald-headed conviction left Kyle Hayes, a man of 6 ft 5 in and 15 stone, bamboozled and looking small.


"He got a great goal against Limerick, just climbing into the sky over Kyle Hayes and he gave an exhibition in the All-Ireland semi-final as well," says JJ, "he was a huge catalyst that day in winning that game for them."

That's an understatement if ever there was one with the De La Salle club man having turned that All-Ireland semi-final upside down by catching 12 puck-outs in 70 minutes. JJ's advice as regards to catching the ball is something that should be treasured and practiced by hurlers all over.

"Any forwards in the club, I'd be telling them, 'don't stand on the ground because you're a sitting duck, you're an easy target for a back. Get up off the ground and make yourself bigger.'"

"The likes of TJ and Jack Fagan do a phenomenal amount of work around the field," says JJ.

"It's not just their scoring ability, it's their ball-winning ability. For argument's sake, if you're a back man and you're under pressure looking up the field and the ball's going in on top of Jack Fagan or TJ, there's an 80% chance they're going to win it so you can stand up and get your breath back, get yourself back in line. When a forward wins a high ball up in the air, it's a huge motivation lift for everyone, and then for the guy marking the TJ or the Jack Fagan - if the forward catches a ball over your head, your confidence is gone through the floor..."

So while quick, short passing has its day, JJ argues that the value of the game's most aesthetically pleasing skill will never diminish. In Fagan and TJ, you have some men to pluck apples.

"You're anxious, you end up probably fouling or giving away stupid frees there as well because it's in your head. So psychologically, it is huge to have the likes of Fagan or TJ up there because once you win a ball up there, you're in the scoring area. Anyone around them will be buzzing off them, running off the shoulder and then you break through for a goal chance you know that kind of way.

"It is a huge thing to have. If there was a transfer market in hurling, ball-winners would be up at the top. Look, we were blessed in Kilkenny with good ball-winners, 3 or 4 out of the six were able to win their own ball which was a huge thing - we didn't have to go with the precise ball but again, you have to go with what you have. If I had TJ Reid on my team, I'd be getting the ball into his area, high, low or whatever, as much as I possibly could."

The high catch will never go out of fashion and thank the lord for that.

Sky Sports GAA analyst JJ Delaney is pictured at the Sky Sports 2021 Championship launch, where the broadcaster announced their fixtures and an all-star line-up of pundits, commentators and presenters for the season ahead. Sky Sports Arena will be the home of GAA, with a total of 18 fixtures broadcasting on the channel – 12 of which are exclusive to Sky Sports. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile