Our son Oscar has been playing an Irish field sport called Hurling for a local Wexford under 8’s team. Until moving to Ireland we had never seen a game or even heard of it. In the past few months, we have all learnt the rules of this unusual game, and enjoy it very much. Last week we were very excited to go and see a live game in Dublin, a quarter final match between Dublin and Galway played at Croke Park. It was a lot of fun, and a great experience to see just how fast and furious the game is played at the top level.
Hurling is believed to be the world’s oldest field game. When the Celts came to Ireland at the end of the last ice age, they brought with them their own beliefs, language, music, and unique pastimes. One of these pastimes was a game now called hurling. In Irish folklore, Hurling is used to illustrate the deeds of heroic mystical figures. It has been chronicled as a distinct Irish pastime for at least 2,000 years.
Here, hurling is more than just a game — it is Ireland’s national passion, much more than just a mere sport! Despite world trends towards big-money professional athletics, hurling has remained strictly amateur. It is a game played purely for the fun and history of it. It is a game woven deeply into the social fabric of the Irish people. Which is amazing when you consider just how extraordinarily dangerous the game is, it’s really physical!
The stick, or “hurley” (called camán in Irish) is curved outwards at the end, to provide the striking surface. The ball or “sliotar” is similar in size to a hockey ball but has raised ridges. Hurley’s are often broken during a game, with a resounding ‘crack’ fondly referred to as “The clash of the Ash”, (Ash being the wood that they are made from).
Hurling is played on a pitch that can be up to 145m long and 90m wide. The goalposts are similar to those used on a rugby pitch, with the crossbar lower than in rugby and slightly higher than a soccer one. 15 players make up a side.
Players may strike the ball on the ground, or in the air. Unlike hockey, they may pick up the ball with their hurley and carry it for not more than four steps in the hand. After those steps players may bounce the ball on the hurley and back to the hand, but are forbidden to catch the ball more than twice. To get around this, one of the skills is running with the ball balanced on the hurley. To score, the ball must go over the crossbar with the hurley for 1 point, or under the crossbar and into the net by the hurley for a goal, which equals three points. Confused yet? Here are some videos of this incredibly fast, and very dangerous game being played…
These are some quick highlights from the game we saw on the weekend which ended in a draw. We witnessed a hurley being broken in the first 30 seconds of the game and a player knocked out cold!
If you are visiting Ireland and are looking for a fun family afternoon out, we highly recommend other travellers go along to a game. Match fixtures and very affordable tickets are available at www.gaa.ie