Some say that we as Americans do not pay enough attention to the outside world, and this is true in the sports world, too. We generally accept football as the “toughest” and most “exciting” sport in the world. The Irish, however, would strongly disagree. In the spirit of foreign tolerance, I would like to introduce you to one of the most intense, grueling, and downright bloodthirsty sports on the planet: hurling. Hurling combines the skill and coordination of ice hockey, the endurance of soccer, and the toughness of football with the lack of pads of rugby. In the words of distinguished alum Chris Herlich ’05, “Hurling is truly a game for the Irish. It’s played on an enormous field, and is absolutely cutthroat.” A hurling field is generally 150 yards long and 100 yards wide, an area more than twice the size of your average football field. Games last 70 minutes, with only one break for halftime. To be a good hurling player, you must be able to balance a sliotar on a hurley while other guys try to knock you senseless with their hurleys. A sliotar is similar to a baseball, and can be flung up to 93 miles an hour. Hey Eric Lindros, think you’re tough? Try stepping in front of a fastball without any pads on. A hurley is built like a field hockey stick, but flatter. In essence, it’s like playing lacrosse, except with only the shaft to balance your ball, but the ball is like a baseball and there are no pads. To put it in American terms, it’s sort of like spinning a basketball on your finger while someone is chasing you with a baseball bat. Feel bad for Barry Bonds when he sits out half a season with a sore knee? Hurling players over the years have been known to suffer a variety of “ocular” injuries, results of being whacked in the eye. The most common eye injury sustained by hurling players is known as hyphaema, eye trauma resulting from damage to blood vessels in the iris with hemorrhage into the anterior chamber. But seriously, who needs eyes anyways? Think baseball is truly a “past-time?” Some sources say that the earliest forms of hurling date back to the 14th Century B.C. For 14 centuries, players couldn’t “thank the Lord Jesus Christ” for their good play, because he didn’t exist. Baseball has been around for century, maybe a century and a half. Hurling has been around for 34 centuries! Hurling is so old that some of Ireland’s mythological heroes are known to have played hurling. According to Northern Gaels Hurling Club, Cu Chulainn, a legendary Irish hero, tells us of his famous feat when, as a young boy, he defeated a vicious hound by hitting his ball through the mouth of the hound with his hurley. Contrary to what you might think, hurling is not a sport devoid of glory. The pinnacle of sporting achievement in Ireland is the All-Ireland Senior Championship, a storied tournament that has been contested since 1887. It also has a rich history of superstars. Think Michael Jordan is special because he won six championships? Christy Ring, who played during the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, won 18 Railway Cups and eight All-Ireland Championships throughout his distinguished career. So the next time you congratulate yourself for living in a country with baseball, football, and basketball, remember that other countries have sports just as exciting and entertaining and hardcore as ours. If you disagree, try telling an Irishman; you may just get hyphaema from a sliotar to the face.
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