Relatively unknown outside Ireland and Great-Britain, albeit over 2,000 years old, hurling – or Iománaíocht in Gaelic – is the third most popular sport in Ireland. It is hard to compare it to anything else for it is quite unique – and sometimes even dangerous!
Hit without getting hit
Clubs, helmets and a ball is what you need to play this outdoor game. Each team is made of 15 members with six defenders, six attackers, two midfielders and a goalkeeper. The players, called hurlers, are monitored by at least one referee, four umpires and two linesmen. The concept of hurling is no more complex than most ball games – two teams, one ball, two goal posts. The team that scores more points wins and has 70 minutes to do so.
So how is hurling such a great game? Well, it’s a pretty rough one. The ball, called Sliotar, is hardly any bigger than a tennis ball, yet it is hard and heavy – you most certainly do not want to get hit by it. Hurlers can hold the ball with their hands or with their hurleys (the name given to the clubs) only for four steps and must then pass it on. However, they can only pick the ball from the ground with the hurley.
Not everything is allowed while playing hurling. Granted there is no offside and the ball should be hurled as far as possible. Yes, the ball is often hit at face level, increasing the risk of serious injuries. In spite of all that, some rules apply and it is not as barbaric as it sounds. For one, you cannot club the other players. You are also supposed to get in the other hurlers’ ways only by hitting them with your shoulders. Still, many hurlers get injured every year. If helmets must be worn, there is a reason to it and indeed a very good one.
If you think you have what it takes to be part of the team, then here is how you can score points. You need to aim for the goal post, which is in the shape of a “H”. If the Sliotar goes between the poles and over the horizontal bar, you score one point and a white flag is raised. If you score below the crossbar, however, you score a goal, worth 3 points and a green flag is raised. Scores are displayed as “County goals-points County goals-points”, e.g. Cork 2-14 Tipperary 1-15.
Interestingly enough, hurlers’ jerseys do not bear the players’ names and the numbers they are given match their positions on the field. Even though hurling teams are not mixed, a feminine version exists with slightly different rules, known as camógaíocht (Camogie).