Hurling: Are You Tough Enough?


Published: Febrary 14, 2008

First, to clear the air, hurling is definitely, absolutely, unequivocally, not curling. Hurling does not involve sweeping ice to make a stone travel faster or slower, and hurling is certainly not an Olympic sport.

Hurling is, in fact, really only played in Ireland, and when examined in a broader scope, hurling might just offer some psychological commentary on the Irish people. Freud offered up the idea that psychoanalysis was of little or no use to the Irish, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he had gotten some of his proof for that theory from this violent game.

According to the Gaelic Athletic Association’s (GAA) official Web site, hurling is a sport which has been chronicled as a part of Irish life for more than two thousand years. Hurling is so old that it is actually rooted in ancient mythology and originated from people trying to reenact or interpret the valiant feats of the heroes of old preparing themselves for battle.

Any sport based on mythology and ancient heroism is bound to be pretty intense, and hurling lives up to its billing. Hurling matches are played on a field longer and wider than an American football field, with two teams of 15 players each. Each of these players wields a roughly three-foot long wooden stick, called a hurley, which looks like a cross between a baseball bat and a hockey stick because of it’s flattened and curved end.

The projectile of choice for a hurling match is called a sliotar (pronounced slitter) and is about the size of a baseball. When well struck, a sliotar can reach speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour. The object of the game is to hurl the solitar into the opponent’s goal, which resembles a soccer net with football goalposts extending upward from it. Striking the sliotar through the posts above the goal is worth a single point, while scoring into the lower goal area is worth three. Goals can only be scored by striking the ball with a hurley; throwing the ball cannot result in points.

The sliotar may be carried in one hand for a distance of four steps or may be carried by balancing it on the hurley indefinitely. But for all of the liberties a player can take with the hurling rulebook, there are a few restrictions.

Though the full-on body check is illegal, shoulder to shoulder contact is perfectly okay and can often be mistaken for checking to the untrained eye. One-handed swipes with the hurley are strictly forbidden, though the two-handed swipe at an airborne ball or a jab at a possessed ball are just peachy. Obviously, striking another player’s hurley with your own is not only accepted but encouraged; how else would turnovers be forced?

There’s one other detail of note: players aren’t required to wear pads. In fact, should a hurler want to wear as much padding as legally allowed by the game, they would don a helmet not unlike a lacrosse helmet, and a protective glove.

There is much that other, so-called “violent sports” could learn from this ridiculously fast-paced and heart-pumping game. When concussions and broken fingers are shaken off with less ceremony than a yawn, a sport has transcended from the weird to the completely insane.

Though everyone involved must be certifiable, the craziest people on the field have to be the goaltenders. Denied the large pocketed stick of a lacrosse goalie, the marshmallow man-like padding of a hockey goalkeeper, or even the leather mitt of a catcher, these are people who volunteer to try to stop 90 mile an hour balls headed for a space the size of a soccer goal with a wooden stick and conspicuous lack of headgear.

Good luck, you magnificent wackjobs.