Hurling might be the coolest sport you’ve never heard of. Played with a ball one must balance on a kind of lacrosse stick without the net pouch, while sprinting up and down what looks like an oversized soccer field, players must dodge other players who, also wielding bats, try to smack the ball away from you before you can turn your stick into a bat and whack the ball into a big hockey net or between football goal posts. Catch all that?
Yes, hurling is the sport that seems to offer a little bit of everything, and it’s not too late to become a fan. Ireland, which is pretty much the only country that hosts hurling leagues, is preparing for one of the biggest hurling matches of the year on Saturday, a bout between Tipperary and Kilkenny. Obviously, though, before you sit down to watch, here’s a primer on your new favorite sport that ends in -urling. (You’ve had a good run, curling!)
First, let’s take a look at this 3,000-year-old (yes THREE-THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD) sport.
If that wasn’t five minutes and 22 seconds of some of the most fascinating video tape you’ve ever seen, then watch it again. And this time pay attention.
Or maybe you’re not a visual learner. In that case, read aloud the words of Chris van Ryn, a journalist from New Zealand, who was part of a handful in international sports reporters invited to Ireland to watch this most intense game. Get ready for some pure poetry:
An arm extends high into the air. Forearm muscles crease with tension, a white-knuckled fist grips the end of a curved pale stick. Thigh muscles ripple like the powerful flank of a running horse as studded boots leave the earth.
A single player ascends towards a white ball which arcs high from the other side of the field, cutting through the air with razor blade sharpness. 82,600 heads rise in unison … and fall, following the trajectory of the sliotar as it hurtles towards the player. Seconds later he is intercepted by a furious swarm. There is an almighty thunder from the crowd as hurleys and players collide.
This, then, is the legendary “clash of the ash” — a demonstration of the most powerful release of sporting energy I have ever seen.
Through my lens I saw before me a sport which has come from the forge of life’s journey, the players harnessing all of history’s emotions in play on the field. It is as if each player is imbued with centuries of the emotional ebb and flow of Ireland.
Forget football! Are you ready for some hurling?
As noted, the the Irish teams of Tipperary and Kilkenny are set to meet on Saturday in one of the most highly anticipated rematches of the year. It’s important to note, as well, that every athlete involved in this sport plays as a hobby; that is, they all have day jobs. Proof: the manager of a team in Offaly died earlier this year when he fell off of a shed. He was a farmer. Less tragically, Henry Shefflin, who plays for Kilkenny, and is widely considered to be one of the best hurlers of all time, works in finance.
For someone who doesn’t know a hurley from a sliotar (that’s the stick and the ball, in case you’re wondering), it is probably that pure passion, which seemingly drives hurlers, or as Slate once called them, the “craziest men in sports,” that makes the sport so initially entrancing to watch. So how can you? The All-Ireland SHC final replay, as it’s called because the two teams met not long ago, won’t be aired on American television, but those with decent Internet connections and a few bucks to spare can purchase the game via the GAA GO app.