All Things Irish Sports

By: dylan helstien, ’17 // Professional writing

Hurling ball and Hurley

Hurley stick and sliotar – part of the Irish sport of Hurling

Hurling, is one of the three famous Gaelic or Irish sports. If you asked me about it before coming to Ireland I would have no idea about Gaelic Football, Handball or Hurling. Only now I know Hurling is one of the most interesting and fun to watch sport out there. Imagine the aggression of lacrosse with the agility of rugby and speed of baseball all played out on a soccer field with the point system of football (there are two goals, one with three points and the other worth one point). Each player has their own hurley, a hockey type stick, but instead of being played on the ground like hockey, the sliotar (leather ball), is hit with the hurley towards teammates in hopes that they will catch it with their bare hands before running it up the field or passing it on. The sport is full contact and the only padding they have is the recently added helmets to protect them from the hurleys, which are handled like baseball bats. Sounds terrifying if you ask me.

Champlain Abroad Dublin was kind enough to introduce us to this sport by giving us the opportunity for first hand experience through the coaches of the Dublin company Experience Gaelic Games. We began with learning the rules of the game (there aren’t many rules) before being thrust into a game ourselves. Of course, we were only playing against each other so it wasn’t the most thrilling game as we struggled to get the ball off the ground, but nonetheless, it was exhilarating.

Champlain students experiencing Irish sports in Dublin

We were also taught how to play Gaelic football, which is basically rugby but with a soccer ball, before being able to play a game between ourselves. Having played soccer for most of my life I would have guessed I would like Gaelic football more than hurling but with recent experience playing volleyball I kept trying to set and spike the ball, go figure. Although it was a great experience I think I’ll stick to watching the sport. Something that would actually come to fruition as Champlain Dublin staff worked out a deal on tickets to a game at Croke Park.

Everyone who was interested in going to the game met up in city center before making the short trek to the stadium. The closer we got to the stadium the more exciting it all became as street vendors selling merchandise became more frequent and the roar of the crowd grew louder. Once we found our seats it was easy to jump right into the game. There was two games, the first game was hurling and the second was Gaelic football both of which were between County Dublin and County Cork. Of course, we wanted County Dublin to win as any true Dub would. The stadium was full of Dublin fans decorated in the Dublin colors of blue and navy. There was always a good laugh when a diehard fan would start yelling profanities in true Irish nature at whichever player they believed wasn’t doing their best. It was even more funny when we turned around to see the diehard fan was a young teenage boy.

Croke Park Dublin

Champlain Abroad students attending a Gaelic Football match in Croke Park, Dublin.

The first game was really fast as each half of the game is thirty-five minutes long and they don’t stop the clock for anything other than halftime, something I really appreciated. American sports stop the clock every 10 seconds, meaning one game can last up to 6 hours. Not only did the time go fast because they didn’t stop the clock but the ball is constantly moving with the players elbowing, tripping, and shoving their way to victory. How could you not watch? There’s something about watching players rip each other apart to win a game all in good fun. It’s also fascinating to see them hit the ground like a freight train only to bounce back up and run for the ball. I couldn’t help but compare them to every soccer player who gets a boo boo. The players reminded me of one of my Irish professors who told me that the Irish are resilient.

While the first game was exciting because of the aggression the second was even more exciting because of the score. There’s nothing better than a close game. While County Dublin won the first game by a long shot, the second game the Dublin team didn’t start off too well. They were losing by at least 8 points and we were worried Dublin was going to lose. It was an amazing turn over as once the second half of the game started it was clear the Dublin County team had either received a stern talking to by their coach or had caught a second wind. They were on fire. Point after point they were steadily making their way back. Each goal had the crowd on their feet screaming and chanting. With a minute to spare the entire Dublin County offense was at Cork’s goal line and with one final kick the game was over. By this point there was only a handful of us left who had decided to stick out the freezing cold and we all agreed it was completely worth it. While we exited the stadium with the massive crowds we talked of hot showers and warm blankets, and the excitement of the game.

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