Hurling: A traditional Irish Sport
It is often compared to hockey but other than the fact that both games involve a stick and a ball there is no similarity.
The curved wooden stick with a flat end is known as a hurl or hurley, or in Irish a camán [say:come-awn], and is made from a single piece of wood, traditionally Ash. The lower end, or blade, is flat on both sides. metal bands are often used around the blades, as on the left, to stop the wood from splitting.
Main image: Cork vs Offaly by Kman999
The ball, or sliothar [say: shlit-her] is about the size of a tennis ball and is leather covered with raised ridges where the leather is stitched.
Hurling is an amateur game and is played only by men (or boys). A similar game, Camogie, is played only by women.
How Hurling is Played
Games are played by two opposing teams of 15 players each. The object is to get the sliothar into the opponent’s goalpost. The goalpost is H shaped, with a net under the cross post. If the sliothar goes over the post, a point is scored, if it goes under the post and into the net a goal, which is worth three points, is scored.
Players are allowed to strike the ball in the air, even above head height, as well as on the ground. When the ball is on the ground it cannot be handled but it can be lifted from the ground using the hurley, to be either caught in the hand or struck.
Once caught in the hand a player can carry the ball for no more than three paces, but is allowed to balance it on the blade of the hurley while running. As well as striking the ball with the hurley, players can kick the ball or strike it with their hand.
An impressive hurling skill is the ability to bounce or balance the ball on the hurl while running at full speed before finally flipping it high into the air and whacking it over or under the cross bar.
Tackling is allowed and although it is not permitted to hit another player with the hurley it can happen in the heat of play and protective helmets are now commonly worn.
When first seeing a hurling match, the impression is of great speed and on closer observation of remarkable skill and dexterity – it is truly not easy to catch and control a small hard ball travelling at up to 150km/hr (about 90 mph)!
Play moves rapidly up and down the pitch since it is possible for a good player to send the ball over 80 metres (about 260 feet) with a single strike. Scoring tends to be frequent, especially of points.
The game’s speed and skill come from the ability required to catch andcontrol the hard ball. It can travel at up to 150 km/hour (93 miles perhour), and a good strike of the hurley can propel the ball over 80metres (262 feet).
Where to See Hurling Played
While it’s a wonderful game to watch live, the ball is so small and the pace so fast that unless you’re familiar with the game it’s sometimes difficult to follow on a small screen. Still, this video will give you a feel for the game.
Hurling is played in most Irish counties, though the strongest teams tend to come from Kilkenny, Tipperary, Wexford, Cork, Clare, Offaly, Limerick and Galway.
Every year the counties compete over the Summer month in the All Ireland Championship , the winner of which receives the MacCarthy Cup. Matches in the Championship series attract huge crowds, with over 70,000 typically attending the final each September in Croke Park in Dublin.
At local level there are many leagues and championships for adult and youth players and in the counties mentioned above especially there will be no problem finding a game to attend any weekend. Ask locally, or check the GAA website.
For a real experience of Irish life, call into a GAA club on an evening when there is training in progress. You will be welcomed, someone will be happy to explain what is going on and will get a real grasp of how the game works by watching teams and individuals learn their skills. There are GAA clubs in pretty much every parish in Ireland, so just ask a local.
Hurling in the News
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