Hurling: The Fastest Game on Grass in Your Own Backyard

BY KIERAN RUANE

The Green Bay area and Wisconsin as a whole play host to many excellent sports teams, like the Packers, Badgers, Bucks and Brewers. But what if I told you there are other excellent sports teams in Wisconsin, all playing a game you’ve probably never heard of? Well there are, and that game is hurling. Let me introduce you to a sport I love to play, just like generations of Irish before me.

Hurling is an ancient Irish sport, dating back over 3,000 years. The game has been deeply rooted in Irish culture and society for generations as mothers and fathers pass on their experiences in hurling to their children, hoping that they may acquire the same love that they share for the game. Whole towns, villages and counties worship their local teams in hopes that one day they will bring glory and success to the places that they love so dear. In Ireland, hurling competition is divided into two areas: club and county, each of which holds their own special place in the hearts of hurlers.

In club competition, players compete for their own beloved villages against other villages within their county, eventually moving on to playing against clubs within their province, and if everything falls into place, they may even have a chance to compete against clubs from around the country in the club championships. The most prestigious title in club hurling is the All-Ireland Senior Club Championship, which crowns the best club team in Ireland, and which the Ballyhale Shamrocks of Kilkenny currently hold after winning the title in March.

In county competition, 30 of the best players from each county are called up to represent their respective counties in provincial qualifiers, and eventually in competition for the most prestigious award in county hurling, the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. Last year’s final between Kilkenny and Tipperary recorded an astounding 82,179 spectators.

The game is played with a stick, called a hurley, and a ball, called a sliotar. Two goalposts, shaped like a soccer goal and a field goal combined, are used for scoring, and the playing field stretches out to 160 yards in length and close to 90 yards in width. The main objective of hurling is to score more points than your opponent; players receive one point for hitting the sliotar above the crossbar and between the goalposts, and three points for hitting it in the goal. Traditionally, 15 players are on the field for each side to start the match, although in America it is 13 per side. Players can hold the sliotar in their hand at any time, but they cannot run with it in their hand for more than four steps. Before four steps are taken, a player must either transfer the sliotar to his/her hurley to carry it any further, pass the sliotar by either slapping it with the hand, kicking it, or hitting it with the hurley or attempt to score by striking the sliotar either over the bar or into the net.

I began playing hurling at the age of ten and ever since then I fell in love with the game. The speed, the intensity, the team aspect; it all just clicked with me. Now, I come from a traditional Irish background, so it wasn’t too tough for me to find out about hurling. All I had to do was take a look at my Dad’s own love of the sport to know how special it truly was. On the other hand, for anyone who doesn’t come from a background such as my own, you can’t necessarily count on hurling to be a part of your life in any way, which makes it difficult to get involved in playing. Here is where the aforementioned “excellent sports teams in Wisconsin” come into play.

Maybe I’ve gotten you interested but you don’t know how you can possibly participate. Fear not; there are three officially recognized hurling clubs in Wisconsin: Milwaukee Hurling Club, currently the largest hurling club outside of Ireland and consisting of over 300 active members, the Hurling Club of Madison and the Green Bay area’s very own Fox River Hurling Club. For those who live anywhere in the Fox River Valley, the FRHC bases teams out of Oshkosh, Appleton and right here in Green Bay, and is always looking for hurlers of any age, gender and experience level to join them. The club runs a winter league out of Synergy Fields in Green Bay, as well as competitions in the summer in the surrounding areas. For those who reside outside the FRV, the Milwaukee Hurling Club and the Hurling Club of Madison are two more great clubs that are always looking for new members.

From the outside looking in, hurling can be an intimidating game to try for the first time. However, for those brave souls willing to pick up a hurley and get out onto the pitch, in no time you will be asking yourself: Why didn’t I start playing this game sooner?

For more information on the sport of hurling itself, you can visit http://www.gaa.ie, the website of the governing body of Gaelic games in Ireland. For more info on hurling clubs you can get involved with in Wisconsin, visit: www.foxriverhurlingclub.com (FRHC), www.madisonhurling.com (Hurling Club of Madison), or hurling.net (Milwaukee Hurling Club).

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