The world of sport is far more diverse than what you see offered at sports bars. This series will profile the lesser-known, the more interesting, and the downright peculiar sports that you haven’t heard of until now.
The thud of a lacrosse ball’s impact with the boards at a box lacrosse game is thunderous. It reverberates in your chest, as the crack of a baseball striking a bat on a crisp October night slices through silence with the ability to bring 50,000 people to their feet.
For three millennia, amateur athletes have engaged in hurling, a sport that combines the frightening speed of lacrosse with the sound and excitement of a ball coming off a bat.
Hurling is an ancient Irish sport of Gaelic origin, and it is considered the fastest sport on earth. The cork and leather ball, called a ‘sliotar’, travels off the stick, or a ‘hurley’, at upwards of 100/mph.
Often, the ball is fired at players who are wearing only a plastic helmet for protection. The hurley looks like a cross between a wooden scimitar and a field hockey stick; it has a handle and shaft ending in a flat, two-sided blade.
Teams include 15 players including a goalkeeper. Each is equipped with a hurley and the objective is to strike the sliotar into the opposing teams’ goalpost for points. The goal looks like a soccer net with football uprights attached to the top.
Teams score one point for striking the ball over the crossbar and through the uprights, and three points for scoring the ball into the net. Incredibly, players are actually expected to catch the small hurtling ball with their bare hands, or they can pick up the ball with the hurley.
A player can travel four consecutive steps with the sliotar in his hand. Afterwards, if players wants to continue advancing with the ball, they have to balance it on the hurley while running. At any time, a player can choose to pass the ball by hitting it with the hurley.
Players must wear helmets, which only became mandatory in 2010, and goalkeepers are required to wear facemasks. Otherwise, no protective equipment is required.
Hurling is not for the lighthearted; the sport can be dangerous. In 1997, a goalkeeper took a shot to the groin, shattering one testicle and having to remove half of the second one.
Despite the dangers, hurling has a lot of parallels with well-known North American sports, and it is not a far stretch to foresee the sport taking off here, even on our own campus.