With Penn State and UCF game, Ireland’s hurling takes center stage

Penn State tight end Kyle Carter hits a ball with a hurling stick as players take part in traditional Irish sports, Gaelic football and hurling, following practice at University College Dublin on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Dublin. (AP Photo/PennLive.com, Joe Hermitt)

Penn State tight end Kyle Carter hits a ball with a hurling stick as players take part in traditional Irish sports, Gaelic football and hurling, following practice at University College Dublin on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Dublin. (AP Photo/PennLive.com, Joe Hermitt)

It’s kind of thrilling to see the Penn State football players with hurleys in hand as they try out the traditional Irish sport of hurling.

If you’ve never heard of the game, you’re in for a real treat. It’s a crazy-fast sport full of action and, to American eyes, it looks remarkably dangerous. There are heavy wooden sticks swatting at hands and feet in an effort to get a baseball-sized ball into two scoring stations on each end of the pitch.

Hurling is played on an absolutely huge field — as much as 100 yards wide and 160 yards long — which means Penn State and the Central Florida will have plenty of room to stretch out for their big game in Dublin’s Croke Park.

To score in hurling, a team has two options. Option one is to smack the ball past the goalkeeper, who’s manning a net that’s wider than a typical soccer goal. The other option is to hit the ball above the crossbar. Blasting the ball, called a sliotar in gaelic, past the goalie earns three points. The easier shot above the crossbar is worth 1 point.

The squad required to play the game is huge too. You need 15 players on each side to fill out the monster-sized pitch.
Why so many players? Why on a field so big? That’s because a solid hit on the ball can send it more than 80 yards across the field. With that kind of range, you need lots of space.

Want to know more about hurling, then check out this short video on the basic rules of the game.



If you have an interest in hurling after seeing Croke Park during Saturday’s game or after seeing the American footballers trying their hand at it, then check around your nearest big city because there’s a good chance there are people playing hurling or gaelic football in your own back yard.

While it’s hard to believe, the sport is gaining major traction here in the U.S. Massive clubs are in Milawaukee and the New York City areas. Beyond them, even smaller cities are seeing teams popping up. You can even do a spot check for your state in Hurley to Rise’s listing page at http://www.ydtalk.com/hurley/u-s-hurling-clubs/

Once you find them, don’t be shy. Contact them and ask if you can stop by and learn more about the sports. You’ll be glad you did.


Hurley to Rise has worked over the last few years to try to provide some real instructional posts on how to play the game and describe it in terms familiar to Americans. In that time, I’ve managed to discuss a wide variety of topics about the game.

Here are some starting points:

Penn State linebacker Mike Hull, third from left, grabs a hurling stick as players take part in traditional Irish sports, Gaelic football and hurling, following football practice at University College Dublin on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Dublin. (AP Photo/PennLive.com, Joe Hermitt)

Penn State linebacker Mike Hull, third from left, grabs a hurling stick as players take part in traditional Irish sports, Gaelic football and hurling, following football practice at University College Dublin on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2014, in Dublin. (AP Photo/PennLive.com, Joe Hermitt)

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‘Major Tom’ on what it takes to be on the hurling pitch

In an Irish tourism video, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tested his skills while on the hurling pitch. http://youtu.be/LFiGhD1OEws

Hadfield became something of a media sensation during his last mission aboard the International Space Station when he offered a cover version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Nothing special, you might think, but what was cool is that he recorded it while floating in zero gravity. http://youtu.be/KaOC9danxNo

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Chris O’Dowd: Actor and gaelic sports hero

COMEDIAN: You can see Chris O'Dowd in "Bridesmaids" and "Thor: The Dark World." One of his early British TV series, "The IT Crowd" is available on Netflix.

COMEDIAN: You can see Chris O’Dowd in “Bridesmaids” and “Thor: The Dark World.” One of his early British TV series, “The IT Crowd” is available on Netflix.

It can be difficult to get a good grasp on the sports of hurling and gaelic football for Americans. We don’t have any frame of reference for the games. We’ve never seen a movie that focuses on the gaelic games. We can’t watch them on TV. There’s never been a video game based on them — well never one that was released in the states.

These sports are just totally off our radar on a national cultural level.

So it was interesting to see the video where minor Irish celebrity Chris O’Dowd, a featured actor in movies such as “Bridesmaids,” “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Thor: The Dark World,” talk about his views on gaelic football.


And as you saw, O’Dowd isn’t just a fan. O’Dowd actually played gaelic football as a goal keeper. Representing County Roscommon, he played throughout his “high school years” and eventually in the post-school Under-21 divisions. While he was in the Under-21 division, he manned the goal for Roscommon in the 1997 Connacht Minor final against County Mayo.

So, we have Chris O’Dowd on our side. That’s good. But who else?

Are there other Irish actors and musicians that are fans of the gaelic games? Let me know.

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Straight from Ireland — The best hurling of 2013

It’s the end of the year, and since you can’t find too many hurling clips of American squads in action, we’ll turn to the bonafide experts of the game over in Ireland.

First up, we’ll start with this video from the GAA as it highlights the best goals of 2013. http://youtu.be/IXO7L8u-3gY

Next we can look at the 10 greatest hurling moments according to the broadcasters of the Sunday Game. http://youtu.be/ajeagHCk15g (Warning, this is a bit of a long video thanks to the great intro.)

If you don’t mind some gaelic football mixed in with your hurling clips, then check out 2013′s best tackles in the GAA. http://youtu.be/RBiDK5NHsIo

But hold on a minute … we do have a few American clips to show you!

Eamonn Gormley, who brought us the fantastic 1-million-plus viewed “Fastest Game on Grass” video, hit the fields in Cleveland, the host of the 2013 North American County Board finals and brought us two great videos.

First up, we have the camogie champs. http://youtu.be/QyyJsSxMqnE

Then take a look at this compilation of moments from the NACB finals weekend.
We especially enjoyed the lengthy interview with GAA president Liam O’Neill. http://youtu.be/OjqIcuG80is

And of course, why not relive the All-Ireland hurling final. The championship was settled in a replay match between County Clare and County Cork. Their first attempt to determine the year’s champions ended in a draw, so they had to play it again a few weeks later. This is the entire un-edited game. http://youtu.be/Rv9FGy9MqOY

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Penn State, UCF schedule a stop at Ireland’s Croke Park

penn-stateWord just came out that the Penn State football team will square off against Central Florida later this fall. Not to exciting, really. Just another football game, right?

Not exactly. In 2014, the Nittany Lions are planning to take their opening game on the road. And not just down to Florida either. They want to leap across the pond to Croke Park, Ireland’s legendary stadium in Dublin.

Here in the United States, we pretty much assume that European countries aren’t terribly interested in what we Americans call football. We think they’re all crazy about what they call football and what we call soccer.ucf-knightx

And while that soccer is popular in Ireland, Croke Park is primarily used for a whole different kind of sport. Two sports in fact.

One sport is called hurling. It’s a 3,000-year-old game that is the likely forebearer of hockey (both the ice and field versions) and lacrosse. Hurling is what this very blog is dedicated to. In “Hurley to Rise,” I look at how hurling is being played in America, offer tips on how to play and provide some guidance to the fledgling teams that are popping up.

The other sport Croke Park is known for is also called football, but it’s not anything like what Penn State plays, and its only a little bit like soccer. The Croke Park version of football is commonly called Gaelic Football outside of Ireland.

Both sports attract huge crowds to Croke Park, which can seat more than 82,000 spectators. The sports are collectively organized by the Gaelic Athletic Association, a group dedicated to preserving and strengthening Irish culture.

To help you get an idea what Hurling is like, check out this video:

Gaelic Football follows pretty much the same rules as hurling, except that it has no stick and the ball is more like a soccer ball. Instead of hitting the gaelic football, you kick it. Other than that, the games are quite close in rules and playing style.

Now you might think this is all rather quaint. They play these nice little sports on their nice little island and no one pays any attention to them.

But you’d be wrong, because here in America, they’re actually becoming fairly popular.

There are gaelic sports clubs in the Nittany Lions’ and UCF Knights’ back yards, for example. In fact, there are a lot of teams all across the United States.  You can find a list of U.S. hurling teams here, most of which are organized by American divisions of the GAA.

And if any of this seems remotely interesting to you, contact those teams and find out how you can get on the field (or simply come out and watch a game).  They will, without a doubt, be happy to have you.

Want to see some more of Croke Park? Check out this video and check out this post.

Finally, I invite all you Penn State and UCF fans to take a look around this blog and learn even more about hurling. Then, when you’re off to Ireland next year, you’ll have plenty to talk about with the natives.

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How a leprechaun can help your hurling club

LUCK OF THE IRISH: Enjoy this coloring page

LUCK OF THE IRISH: Enjoy this coloring page on your own, or just ask and Hurley to Rise will send you a version to use for your own events.

While this isn’t exactly hurling related, I just wanted to point you to a St. Patrick’s Day-themed coloring contest going on here in York, Pa.

Your kids can color in the image at right to win some prizes from The York Emporium, a local bookstore, including a spot on their St. Patrick’s Day Parade float.

Details on the contest, and the coloring page image can be downloaded in this PDF.

Still wondering why I’m even mentioning this hyper-local contest on my blog? Because I’m the artist of this beauty of a coloring page!

Yeah, I know I should have added a hurley and sliotar into the image somewhere, but I couldn’t figure a way to do it and still have it appeal to those not familiar with the gaelic games.


The greater message is this though: GAA clubs in America (and elsewhere) need to offer a full-course menu of activities during their recruiting efforts. You certainly need to appeal to adults with the promise of comradery, after-game beers and athletic competition. But you also need to start catering to the family crowd as well. Do this by offering parent-friendly leagues, sideline activities for kids in tow, game instruction for kids, picnic events and crazy things like coloring page contests.

With that in mind, hurling and gaelic football clubs are welcome to use the image for their own events — as something to hand out to kids during a publicity campaign, an activity to keep kids occupied while mom and dad are on the pitch, or even on a giveaway t-shirt. Just let me know and I’ll send you a raw image.

Further, I can help you come up with other, more GAA-themed coloring pages and images if you are so inclined. Just contact me at john@johnsimcoe.com.

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