Since hurling clubs here in America are so small, so decidedly tucked away in the “niche” sport category, a lot of them have trouble paying field-use fees, gathering equipment and attracting the attention of non-players. Basically, they’re always short on cash.
Most try to scrape together money by hosting pub-crawls, soliciting donations at Irish heritage festivals or tapping sponsors, which are almost always Irish pubs.
Almost all of these efforts tie the game and its Irish roots with throwing back a few beers. For most, this is absolutely fine. For others, it’s an unfortunate reinforcement of the Irish stereotype — that of a pub-loving, drunken rabble-rouser.
If hurling wants to succeed in Puritanical America, it needs to rise above that. It doesn’t need to rise too far, mind you, because there’s plenty of beer-loving sports fans here in the U.S., but a even little separation from that stereotype is sure to help.
So here’s what I would suggest for the next hurling club fundraiser: A poc fada.
Now bear with me, because I bet a lot of American-born hurling players don’t know what a “poc fada” is.
Basically, it’s the hurling version of a homerun derby for baseball players — with a golfing twist.
In a poc fada, the players assemble at a given point and hit their sliotars as far as they possibly can. Then they advance ahead to where the ball landed and hit it again. The players are working their way to an end point about 3 miles away. They keep hitting their ball until they get there, and the player with the fewest strikes wins.
Players in the All-Ireland Poc Fada Championship can do this in 50 hits or so. Americans might be lucky if they can get it 80. Here’s a website dedicated to that event, which includes rules, results, photos and videos.
Still, this is the kind of activity even non-hurling players can get into — heck, they would probably even pay a fundraising fee to play. Consider this:
- The skill set is minimal, so practically anyone can do it. (Maybe not well, but they can do it.)
- Smashing the ball as far and as hard as you can is always the most satisfying part of the game. A poc fada boils hurling down to just that.
- The rules are simple — hit it as few times as you can to reach the goal.
- It provides a basic introduction to several key aspects of hurling — long and big hits, the ball and the hurley.
- It sparks an interest in hurling.
- People of all ages and athletic levels can participate.
- It’s a day out in the country that isn’t a golf game. This is something different.
Here’s how you can set up a poc fada fundraiser:
- THE LAND: Contact a local farmer, park administrator or Joe Average land owner and talk to them about the poc fada. Ideally, you’ll want to use a 50-yard-wide strip of land that goes over hill and dale and is relatively clear. It only needs to be mostly clear, because obstacles make a poc fada more fun. For farmland, the basic grazing pasture (and not cropland) is ideal.
- RUN-THROUGH: Get some team-members to do a run through of the proposed course and figure out the average number of hits, the par, it takes to complete (this will be important). You should also look for potential hazards on the course — not golf-style hazards, but injury-inducing hazards — and clear them out.
- THE DATE: There’s two schools of thought on this. Either have it on or near St. Patrick’s Day — to catch people when their Irish pride is the highest — or as far away from St. Patrick’s Day as possible — to intrigue non-Irish folks about gaelic sports.
- FINANCES (FOR SKILLED PLAYERS): Your hurling club members (and anyone who’s good with a hurley) should take pledges from their friends, family and coworkers. Basically, they pledge to pay you more for the least number of hits by following this formula: (50 + the pre-determined course average) – (the player’s score) = The Pledge multipler. Example: Someone completes the 65-par poc fada in 52 hits (50+65-52=63), his supporters then pay him 63 times their pledge amount. So someone who pledged 25-cents now owes $15.75.
- FINANCES (FOR THE PUBLIC): If the public wants to play, have them pay to play. I’d recommend that they pay $20 or so, include some refreshments and a giveaway item, such as a shirt or mug.
- RECRUIT: Once you’ve got the fundraising rules down, the par established and pledge forms created, you need to go out and recruit some additional participants. First off, hit up local business people with Irish names, news broadcasters, celebrities, politicians, retired sports stars and maybe even current players from the local pro baseball team — this will help you get some publicity. After that, start circulating forms at local pubs (yeah, why not?), Roman Catholic churches and schools (lots of Irish folks there) and anywhere else you can think of to generate some interest. At the same time, hurling club members should be seeking out pledges of their own.
- ADVERTISE: Once you’ve got a date and a location, start advertising the event. You don’t necessarily have to spend money to do so, just send a press releases to your local paper, television and radio stations. Print up some fliers and hand them out around town. Be sure to explain what a poc fada is, too.
- LEGAL: If you play the poc fada on private land, you need to get some sort of waiver that exempts the landowner from liability for injury. This is absolutely necessary. Whether or not it’s on private land, you should also have a waiver that exempts the club from liability for injury. There are two likely injuries in a poc fada, someone gets hit by a sliotar or someone trips and hurts themself on rough terrain.
- TRAIN: At the start of the poc fada, you should host a training session for all newcomers on how to hold the hurley, how to hit the ball and give them a few practice swings. If it’s apparent that novices aren’t going to hit as well as your regular members, you might want to consider a shorter course for them.
- HELP: Don’t let all your hurling club members play in the poc fada, have a few work as ball-spotters (very important!), ombudsmen and on-the-course coaches. Their goal is to make sure the non-members have fun, learn the basics of a poc fada/hurling and corral people who wander off the course. They should also keep a close watch on the equipment to make sure no one walks off with a hurl or sliotar.
- PLAY: When the big day arrives, get out there early. Make sure the weather will be good, because if it’s not it will be miserable. Have someone in charge of all the side details — parking, refreshments, restrooms, form organizing, equipment quartermaster, fee collection, cleanup, boundary marking and so on. Once all that’s all good, get playing, have a good time and be proud you’ve further secured your club’s future.
Want to see an actual poc fada? Here’s a you tube video where they blast hits along a country road in Ireland.Read More