A tale of camouflaged sliotars, poison ivy and the kite-eating tree


One of the things every American hurling and camogie player hates is losing a ball.

No, I’m not talking about losing control of the sliotar in the middle of a match, because that certainly sucks, but something much worse. What I’m talking about is actually hitting the ball and seeing it disappear into a patch of weeds, behind some shrubs or launching it into some horrifically inaccessible area.

Just like Charlie Brown, every hurler has his or her own version of the kite-eating tree, except we now know American plant life likes the taste of apple-sized Irish sports equipment.

It’s just a ball, I can hear you say. Just get another one.

Well, therein is the problem. For hurlers in America, it’s actually quite difficult to maintain a steady supply of equipment. You can’t go down to Dick’s Sporting Goods and buy a 12-pack of hurling balls.

In most cases you need to have them shipped from Ireland, at about $10 a ball. (Granted, you can get them stateside from specialty dealers, but even their supplies are limited.)

And so every hurler in America knows the great angst we suffer when we bash a sliotar into the weeds. We know we’ll be spending 10-15 minutes at minimum to track it down because if we don’t have enough sliotars, there’s no way to play the game.

And that brings me to a story of this ball-eating section of my backyard:

This friendly looking hedge is actually a sliotar-eating monster in disguise.

This friendly looking patch of vegetation is actually a sliotar-eating monster in disguise.

In a rare opportunity a few weeks ago, a friend came to town who, at the very least, had heard of hurling. While we chatted, I said “Hey, you want to go knock the hurling ball around?”

He agreed, and outside we went to bat the sliotar around. After a few volleys we were getting warmed up and I decided to fire a “line drive” to him. He went for the catch, missed and the ball zipped into what could only be called a “semi-gardened” patch of vegetation surrounding the fence on my property.

I saw it fly into the plants, and they swallowed it up.

“No biggie,” I thought as a seed of  angst planted itself in my mind, “I have a few spare balls,” and we switched to one of them as we finished up our game of catch.

Afterwords, I used my hurley to dig around through the patch, which included some daylilies, decorative ivy and morning glories all of which were intertwined with a fence.

But the ball was gone. It had disappeared completely.

Just to make sure, I checked the front of the fence, the back of the fence, and as far in as the hurley would allow me to blindly probe.

Nothing. No ball.

I searched for 10 minutes and could not find it. These sliotars, I have learned, they have a nasty habit of playing hide-and-go-seek.

With my friend waiting to go to dinner, I gave up and promised to return another day and find the missing ball.

A day or so later, I was back. This time I had a shovel, and I poked around. I shoved aside the vines, mashed down the daylilies.

HERE'S AN IDEAS: Perhaps hurlers should just offer a sacrifice to the plants in advance of every practice.

HERE’S AN IDEA: Perhaps hurlers should just offer a sliotar-based sacrifice to the plant kingdom in advance of every practice.

While there was no hurling ball to be found, I did spot a few ropes of poison ivy. “Crap,” I thought, “I’ll have to pull that out to find it.”

The next day I had geared up for the worst: Gloves, long sleeve shirt and a hat.

With my armor donned, I led an assault against the poison ivy. I tore it up, threw it in the trash and went back for more. And when it was all gone,  guess what? Still no ball.

Part of the problem that day was a strict timeline — if you get a tiny bit of poison ivy resin on you, the clock starts: 30 minutes or you risk it attaching to your skin. Playing it safe, I searched for about five minutes and then ran back into the house, stripped naked and carefully washed myself down with cold water.

And 24 hours later? You guessed it — I had poison ivy rashes all over my arm.

Stupid ball.

A week and four or five thunderstorms later, the rashes now just a faint pink afterglow and I was ready to renew my search. This time I was using one of those clawed garden tools. The rain, I figured, soaked the ball, made it squishy. That meant the claw could helpfully skewer it for easy retrieval.  I raked across the now poison-free ivy. I dug through tangled base of daylilies.

No ball. Nothing. Not even a piece of litter blown in from the alley.

And so I gave up.

The ball clearly sprouted legs and walked to someone else’s yard after its layover in my monster-filled patch of weeds.

(Such obviously sentient activity reminded me about another time I lost a ball. I hit it over the bank of my parents’ yard and into a rock-strewn drainage ditch. The ball, apparently satisfied with its new company, camouflaged itself and went native, never to be found again.)

But this ball decided to come back. Perhaps the other lawn wasn’t Irish enough for it.

About two weeks after the claw-based search, I was out mowing the lawn, and — you guessed it — my lawnmower used its blood-hound like senses to uncover its hiding spot.

As I was working close to the ominously dangerous  patch of vegetation, I rolled close to the daylilies, there was a loud bang and the mower choked itself to a stop.

I grimaced, knowing exactly what I hit.

Yep, my long-lost sliotar. Worth a measly $10, and it cost me a case of poison ivy, hours worth of angst and now a new mower blade to boot.

But I got my ball back.




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Hurling books make great stocking stuffers


Over the last few years, Hurley to Rise has read a few books about the sport of hurling that have helped us understand the game better. We Americans need all the help we can get understanding hurling and its finer points, and sometimes a book is just the ticket.

With that in mind, I can say I wholeheartedly recommend these as Christmas stocking stuffers for the hurling enthusiast on your gift list.

“Hurling USA: America Discovers an Ancient Irish Sport” by Denis O’Brien — An exploration of the sport as it arrived in America, disappeared and reappeared in modern times. History lessons aside, the author talks to a number of modern enthusiasts about how they first encountered the sport and brought it to their own little corner of the United States. Originally an e-book, it’s now available in print form too.  (In full disclosure: I am quoted in the book.)

“Ireland’s Professional Amateurs: A Sports Season at its Purest” by Andy Mendlowitz – This was one of the first books I read about hurling (and its related sport, Gaelic Football) and it delved into explaining some of the background elements of the game in Ireland. In particular it looks at how the amazing athletes who play the game aren’t compensated for their play. Instead they do play out of pride for their homeland. It’s really a foreign concept to many Americans — these guys perform at a pro sport level, but don’t get paid millions for their work. Heck, they don’t even get paid thousands for their work.

“The Wolfhound Guide to Hurling” by Brendan Fullam — This thin book offers a look at the historical and mythical roots of the game and offers some early accounts of those who reported on the sport. It supposes that the reader knows quite a bit about hurling and its legendary players, but despite those complaints it’s quite interesting.

I also have a few other hurling books in my to-read pile, but I just haven’t got to them yet. They are:

Expect a review on those in later entries in Hurley to Rise.

Do you know of any more? Care to write a review of your favorite? E-mail me and let’s work together!




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Hurling goalies: “The craziest men in sports”

TheSlate.com, an online magazine, just did an interesting piece on hurling and its fairly new helmet and facemask rule. You can read the article, titled “The Craziest Men in Sports” here.

FAST BALL: In hurling, the ball can accelerate up to 100 mph, which created enough of a safety concern that the Gaelic Athletic Association mandated helmet use for all levels of play.

Since I’ve been involved in hurling, using a helmet was mandatory, except while we practiced. But after running a few drills with my helmet on and participating in a few scrimmages, it truly is a whole different experience when you’re playing with a helmet.

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‘CSI: NY’ tries hurling

A game of hurling showed up on a 2009 episode of “CSI: NY.” I didn’t see and probably never will because I have no interest in the alphabet soup of crime shows out there.

This episode centers around the death of a man who told the Queens Hurling Club to hold their hurling practices somewhere else. You can learn all about the ins-and-outs of the episode here, but let’s face it the hurling is what I care about.

Here’s the scene:

Even for me, the hurling here looks a little clumsy. First off, those guys should be running all over a giant field. Instead, they look like they’ve been confined to a pitch the size of a kickball diamond.

You need all that space because hurling is about running — running like a madman because you know another madman is about to chase you down and take your stuff. Instead, these guys look like they they’re about to break into a tasteful game of croquet.

Then there’s the handpasses. Yeesh. They’re what? A yard away from one another? And they’re standing still? What’s the point of that? If you’re making a hand pass, it’s because you’ve got one of those madmen crawling all over you and your teammate doesn’t.

Also, take a look at all the player’s hurls. Every one of them is brand spanking new. No ball marks. No dirt on the edges. No gouges. Nothing.

Why even the “Ooh, this could be evidence!” shot shows a hurley so clean you could eat off of it. If you’re gonna kill someone with your hurley, the least you would do is pick one that been well-used since it might already have blood on it. (The better to mix up those science nerds on the forensics squad, y’know.)

Finally, the prime speaking roll goes to Derek Craigie, a guy from Scotland, who speaks with a Scottish accent. What’s so hard about finding an Irish actor?

Complaints aside, I’m just glad to see hurling show up in the mass media, and if you happen to know of others, let me know!

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Looking back at the summer season

I missed last week’s practice in Baltimore (family in town), so this Sunday is when my fall hurling season begins.

I’m eager to jump in again, even though I currently have an achy back. Each of the fall games in Baltimore will last about an hour, so I’m pretty sure I’ll survive. You can try the game yourself, since we’re eager to get new players no matter what your skill level.

Still, as I get ready for what’s ahead, I’ve been thinking about the highlights and lowlights of my season:

  • PRACTICES: I managed to make about 60 percent to 75 percent of the practices. Most of my missed time was the result of an injury or sickness. Since I have to drive  about 65 miles to and from practice in rush-hour traffic, that ain’t too bad.
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Help him because he helped us

STEPHEN QUIGLEY AND FAMILY: Quigley, the operator of American Hurling Co., was seriously injured in a recent game at the Chicago championships.

Modern hurling in America has been, in a large part, greatly assisted by one man:
Stephen Quigley.

Years ago, Quigley started the American Hurling Co. which began producing hurling sticks for American players. While his hurleys cost about the same as many Irish-made hurleys, his company was well known for its amazing customer service and speedy delivery. (And when you break your only hurley in practice and need one in a few days for a game, speedy deliveries are important.)
I personally have dealt with Stephen and American Hurling Co. a number of times, most recently this summer as I quested for a

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