Hurling is a fast paced sport where 30 spirited Irishmen enthusiastically run around a field hurling a hard leather ball( a sliotar) at each other at speeds of up to 100 mph using carved Ash tree sticks (Caman's or Hurley's).
Hurling is played with 15 men on each team over 2 halfs of 35 minutes each. Putting the ball over the bar of the goal and between two upright posts is equal to 1 point while placing it in the goal proper, is worth 3 points.
Hurling is an inherently dangerous and rough game. Players can expect to be tackled to the ground, wrestled, shoulder charged, slashed, hooked and pulled. Early games had a tradition of all players on the field, 42 in the early days, engaging in all-out wrestling matches at the final whistle. The use of helmets is encouraged but not required and most players will go without for many reasons. Practically, they limit the filed of vision from players but in reality many think it is more a matter of pride: after all you'd be kind off a pussy to wear a helmet when your opponent doesn't right?
New regulations introduced in 2010 have made the use of helmets mandatory on all levels. Rather then being grateful for the opportunity to protect themselves from 100 mph travelling bits of leather, numerous players have retired rather then be forced to wear what is, essentially, just a thin shield of plastic.
"The concussion sucks but at least I don't look like a pussy..."
Croke Park in Dublin is the home of hurling and is the largest non-soccer orientated stadium in Europe with an official capacity of 80'300. That's important to note as the largest attendance on record is over 90'000, proving that what would be a strict seating limit in most countries is taken only as a casual suggestion by most Irish people.
And its only used one third of the year too.
The striking of Caman against each other is called "The Clash of the Ash" after the tree that the sticks are made from. Such strikes invariably end with the two objects smashing to pieces and sending sharp shards of wood flying in every direction because the game just isn't dangerous enough already.
One of the key drawing points of Hurling is its amateur status at every level. Every player, manager, coach and official takes part without pay or wages. All players have "real" jobs, often coming from the Agriculture, Army or Garda professions (because those jobs just aren't stressful enough.) As such Hurling is viewed as a more pure sport where the participants really are playing for the glory of their county rather then monetary reward.
FOR THE GLORY!
Hurling's origins go back over 3'000 years and is thought to have been first played by the migrating Celts. The mythical Irish hero Cu Chulainn gained his name by hurling a sliotar down the throat of the hound of Culann. He is also said to have been able to defeat entire teams by himself.
Cu Chulainn: Hurling's first showboater
A law passed in Galway in the 16th century said, "At no time to use ne occupy ye hurling of ye litill balle with the hookie sticks or staves, nor use no hand balle to play without the walls, but only the great foot balle" showing the English not only recognized the danger of allowing the Irish their native games but probably also sounded hilarious.
In the 18th century many rich landlords in Ireland would create teams from their servants and tenants and send them out against teams made by neighbouring landlords. While records of the time try to portray this as just a good ol' bit of fun, when you think about it, the English gentry were getting the poor Irish people under their control and making them hit each other with sticks for their own amusement.
The modern game of hurling was organised with the creation of the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1886 an organisation designed to promote traditional Irish games while railing against "foreign" English games like Rugby and Soccer seen as "soft" sports only played by "them across the water." Hurling became a much more codified and officiated sport then it used to be. It is important to note that the modern game, where grown men hurl a hard leather ball at insane speeds and swing large bits of wood at each other is a toned down version of the sport.
The 1939 All Ireland Final between Kilkenny and Cork is known as the "Thunder and Lightning" final. Many think that this was due to the then recent outbreak of World War 2 but it was actually so named because it was played in weather that would get any modern sport called off, the Irish considering the greatest war ever fought (or as we call it "the Emergency"), to be far less important then 30 men running around in a thunderstorm.
Pictured: Hurling and War. Or just War depending on where your from.
The main competition for the sport is the All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship which takes place across Ireland from May to September. The most dominant team at the moment is Kilkenny whose MO is to allow the other team to be winning all the way to the last 10 minutes when Kilkenny will effortlessly score at least 10 points without breaking a sweat. Such tactics have allowed Kilkenny to win the last 5 of the last 6 All-Ireland Championships.
Other succussful teams include Cork and Tipperary as well as other counties like Wexford, Clare, Limerick and Galway. Due to the Irish diaspora, the GAA is able to include several teams from outside Ireland such as New York and London. However geographical absence from the motherland is clearly a factor in the game as they are considered the worst teams in the tournament having only won 1 All Ireland between them way back in 1901.
The most famous commentater of the sport is Micheal O Muircheartaigh whose style of play-by-play can charitably be described as "eccentric." Muir-a-hurt-ig got the commentary job with Irish broadcaster RTE in 1940 despite having never watched a hurling game in his life. His trademarks include frequently discussing players off-field professions such as:
"Anthony Lynch, the Cork corner-back, will be the last person to let you down - his people are undertakers."
"The stopwatch has stopped. It's up to God and the referee now. The referee is Pat Horan. God is God."
"Pat Fox out to the forty and grabs the sliothar. I bought a dog from his father last week. Fox turns and sprints for goal... the dog ran a great race last Tuesday in Limerick. Fox, to the 21, fires a shot, it goes to the left and wide... and the dog lost as well."
"Stephen Byrne with the puck out for Offaly. Stephen, one of 12. All but one are here to-day, the one that's missing is Mary, she's at home minding the house..."
Hurling players and supporters have, over the years, created their own separate dialect, a crude mixture of English and old Irish. In the event that you find yourself outside Croke Park, surrounded by bloodthirsty Cork fans after they got trounced by the Cats, this handy guide should keep you from being "warped" as a "F*ckin foreign panzy"
Give it a fokin Baite ya plank!
Put a fair bit of an effort into it, you idiot!
He looked fair stomached when he hooked him there.
He looked very surprised when a hurley was wrapped around his neck.
That puck was Mighty! Trust him not to make a hames of it!
He hit the ball quite well. You can trust him not to make a mess of that.
That centre half was bullin after I skhelped him,
That defensive player was extremely angry after I thumped him.
Half time. Come on, and we'll have a cup of tae and some hang sangwidges
Half time. Lets consume some caffeine and some ham sandwiches.
Fokin schmozzle there!
Several players are contesting the ball there!
McCarthy gave his Captain a real flackin at training last night.
McCarthy verbally abused his Captain in front of the team at training last night.
In the name of Jesus Referee!
We horsed them out of it.
We intimidated the other team successfully.
Come up ta fock!
I am having difficulty rising the ball on my hurley!
Bollix ta ya!
Here's a typical Hurling broadcast by Irish television station RTE. Irish reader's will find nothing remarkable about it at all, but foreigners tend to be struck by two things:
1. The camera swings back and forth like a metronome on steroids.
2. Where the fuck is the ball?
Due to the small size of the sliotar, a typical field sport camera can't pick it up very well from a distance, meaning that the easist way to find follow the course of the game is to look for the biggest concentration of players.
Also, if you skip to one minute in, that is exactly how the game begins: the ref throws the ball in, backs the hell up in a hurry, and everyone just piles the fuck in.
This writer invites people to imagine that their is no ball and that the players are genuinely crazy.
I'm pretty sure that guy in the white shirt isn't a player, he just wanted a better view.