It's kind of thrilling to see the Penn State football players with hurleys in hand as they try out the traditional Irish sport of hurling.
If you've never heard of the game, you're in for a real treat. It's a crazy-fast sport full of action and, to American eyes, it looks remarkably dangerous. There are heavy wooden sticks swatting at hands and feet in an effort to get a baseball-sized ball into two scoring stations on each end of the pitch.
Hurling is played on an absolutely huge field -- as much as 100 yards wide and 160 yards long -- which means Penn State and the Central Florida will have plenty of room to stretch out for their big game in Dublin's Croke Park.
To score in hurling, a team has two options. Option one is to smack the ball past the goalkeeper, who's manning a net that's wider than a typical soccer goal. The other option is to hit the ball above the crossbar. Blasting the ball, called a sliotar in gaelic, past the goalie earns three points. The easier shot above the crossbar is worth 1 point.
The squad required to play the game is huge too. You need 15 players on each side to fill out the monster-sized pitch. Why so many players? Why on a field so big? That's because a solid hit on the ball can send it more than 80 yards across the field. With that kind of range, you need lots of space.
Want to know more about hurling, then check out this short video (http://youtu.be/TmzivRetelE) on the basic rules of the game.
Here in America: If you have an interest in hurling after seeing Croke Park during Saturday's game or after seeing the American footballers trying their hand at it, then check around your nearest big city because there's a good chance there are people playing hurling or gaelic football in your own back yard.
While it's hard to believe, the sport is gaining major traction here in the U.S. Massive clubs are in Milawaukee and the New York City areas. Beyond them, even smaller cities are seeing teams popping up. You can even do a spot check for your state in Hurley to Rise's listing page at http://www.ydtalk.com/hurley/u-s-hurling-clubs/
Once you find them, don't be shy. Contact them and ask if you can stop by and learn more about the sports. You'll be glad you did.
Want to learn more? Hurley to Rise is a blog I created a few years ago to talk about how I was learning the sport. In that time, I've tried to provide some real instructional posts on how to play the game and describe it in terms familiar to Americans. It turned out to be a difficult sport to master, but a great game to play.
Often, I found the best instructors were Irish expatriates who brought their love of the sport here to America. They weren't the only experts though. The sport has been in America for a long time, but only in the last two decades have Americans started to show interest, and in that time they have show a tremendous ability at the sport.
For you, hurling newbie, Hurley to Rise has some great starting points for exploring the game:
- The Basics of Hurling -- A look at the sport and its simplest rules (http://www.ydtalk.com/hurley/2009/06/19/the-basics-of-the-game-part-1/)
- So You're Interested in Hurling -- Things you'll need to know before you show up at the field (http://www.ydtalk.com/hurley/2013/03/15/so-youre-interested-in-hurling/)
- How to Hold a Hurley -- You don't hold it like a baseball bat, after all. (http://www.ydtalk.com/hurley/2010/04/23/the-basics-of-hurling-part-4-holding-the-hurley/)
- Five Key Skills to Make a Great Hurler-- Starting out, you will only need enthusiasm. Later on, it's all about speed. (http://www.ydtalk.com/hurley/2013/05/16/five-key-skills-that-make-a-great-hurler/)
- You Need Both Your Hands in Hurling -- Only the best players can use their sticks one-handed. (http://www.ydtalk.com/hurley/2012/06/15/you-need-both-your-hands-in-hurling/)
- Tips for Catching in Hurling -- There's no gloves and very little protective gear, so you need to catch a 90 mph ball with your bare hand. (http://www.ydtalk.com/hurley/2011/04/05/afraid-of-the-ball-tips-for-good-catches/)
- Counties Count in the GAA-- Learning about how teams are formed in Ireland can help you understand the culture. (http://www.ydtalk.com/hurley/2009/10/09/the-basics-of-hurling-part-3-team-spirit/)
- No Pay for Gaelic Athletes -- They are incredibly skilled, but they don't make a dime while they play. (http://www.ydtalk.com/hurley/2009/10/07/the-basics-of-hurling-part-2-professional-amateurs/)
John Simcoe's Hurley to Rise blog can be found at ydtalk.com/hurley. He's played the sport for about five years now, and while he's no powerhouse on the field, he's great at writing down instructions on how to play. Email him at email@example.com.