The annual Hurling Classic has come to New York City which is certainly a far cry from its early days in Ireland. Yet the sport appears to be growing in popularity amongst Americans, particularly the younger generation. But what actually is hurling?
Hurling is arguably the world’s fastest field sport as well as one of it’s oldest and is played with sticks known as hurleys as well as a ball called a sliotar, by two teams of 15 members. It is also reportedly the most skillful fame in the world, a claim many other sports will try to refute.
Mixing skills from other games including field hockey, baseball and lacrosse, hurling is definitely a ‘hard-hitting, highly paced game’.
It is now known as one of Ireland’s major national sports with its history dating back to 7th and 8th century AD where Irish laws have listed the many different injuries that had occurred through playing the sport.
However, its history most likely goes back even further due to the Irish Olympics starting in 1600BC, nearly 1,000 before the Greek’s started their event.
This November saw the Hurling Classic – an annual round of games designed to draw attention from sports fans around the country to the merits of this captivating game – move away from Boston’s Fenway Park and head to Citi Field, the home ground of MLB’s New York Mets.
And with the All-Ireland Senior Hurling competition sending the top four counties to participate, it was always going to be a good tournament.
In Boston, Fenway Sports Management (FSM) managed to gain more than 30,000 spectators and were hoping by moving the games to New York they would gain a bigger audience with FSM spokesman Mark Lev commenting:
‘We’re aiming to replicate that success in New York and hope to introduce hurling to new audiences and generate more interest in the sport.’
While Wexford were due to take on reigning champions Limerick, Tipperary and Kilkenny re-enacted 2019’s All-Ireland final. The winners of each game then played each other for the title.
But what actually is hurling?
Played on a field that is slightly bigger than a soccer pitch with ‘H’ shaped goals at each end, the game is played for 70 minutes with extra time added to each 35 minute half depending on injuries, with a break in the middle.
However due to the field sizes in America being slightly smaller to those in Ireland The Hurling Classic will be fielding teams of 11 players with the points from the ball crossing the bar not counting, meaning the rules have had to be changed slightly from the original game.
Teams play with sticks that are akin to hockey sticks, however the ‘hurleys’ have a larger ‘toe’ enabling the player to lift the ball and therefore having a better chance of hitting it.
Each team has 15 amateur players meaning there are no big salaries to pay and points are scored through either scoring a goal with the sliotar making its way into the net (3 points) or by hitting it over the crossbar (1 point). Whichever team has the highest score at the end is the winner.
In New York there are already five senior teams with a playing level almost the same as the level in Ireland. This means that the competition is ‘pretty good’.
Tommy Kavanagh, a 27 year old hurler from County Tipperary in Ireland has been quoted as saying ‘the majority of the American born players’ parents were born in Ireland, and their skill set would be at 17 or 18 as good as any 17 or 18 year old in Ireland.
Moving to New York three years ago, Kavanagh plays hurling for Tipperary. Founded in the 1890s, the club was originally known as the Kickhams until they were forced to change their name in 1904.
Kavanagh explains, ‘anyone that emigrates, either to the US or the UK, that has played hurling, once they arrive in a new location, their first port of call is to join a local club, and to try and meet similar people to yourself.’
As well as keeping players connected with Ireland hurling is a key part of may players Irish identity with Kavanagh acknowledging ‘just because you move to a new country doesn’t mean you stop playing the game’.
However, being a hurler has raised a few eyebrows, not just in New York but across the United States as a whole, with many Americans curious to understand what the game is.
‘Hurling is the national game of Ireland. If you carry a hurley down the street, people are very inquisitive to know what’s the game, and what is that bat. I have that sense of spreading the game.’
Although the Hurling Classic has visited New York City for the first time this year, the game has been around since 1772, with Irish soldiers in the British Army introducing it to the country.