Another look at hurling

Here’s a great video that really shows the skill and excitement of the game of hurling.
http://youtu.be/xcGZ8_1ua0I

Now I know what you’re saying good reader: “Dude, it’s been months since your last post! Why now?”

Well, the truth of the matter is that I’ve been horrifically busy at home and work for nearly this entire year. Things are finally easing off, so I hope that I can finally return to doing regular posts here at Hurley to Rise.

So don’t give up on me just yet. I just needed a little time off, and that time is now over.

May my hurley rise again.

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

tree2z

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.

Whew!

 

 

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Five key skills that make a great hurler

MOTION: Hurling isn't a game where you just stand around. You need to be on the move through the entire game. (Photo courtesy of Columbia Red Branch Hurling)

MOTION: Hurling isn’t a game where you just stand around. You need to be on the move through the entire game. (Photo courtesy of Columbia Red Branch Hurling)

In my previous posts responding to the questions from new-hurler Mike, I talked about enhancing game awareness in hurling and some helpful hurling videos for new players.

This time I want to sum up a few things that are key development points for every person playing hurling or its sister sport, camogie.

More importantly, I offer a few suggestions on how you can work on these aspects on your own and away from the your regular practice.
  • STAMINA — Hurling is a sport where you are in constant motion if the sliotar is within half-a-field of you. That means that you’re easily moving 70 percent of the time. As you’re on the field you can’t just stand there, you have to constantly be ducking around other players, avoiding your mark and keeping the ball in sight. All that hustling means that you have to have some some fuel in the tank at all the right times.  Since I’m in my late-late 30s, this is clearly my biggest fault — I just get winded way too quickly. Boosting your stamina comes in two forms — diet and exercise. Diet wise, you need to be eating a high fruit and high veggie diet and keep your hydration levels at their peak. For exercise, it’s all about practicing ahead of time to keep moving. Running is the best exercise for sure to develop stamina, but suicide sprints are even better.
  • FOOT SPEED — While I talk about movement in the section above, a totally separate focus needs to be placed on maximizing your top speed. You can impress your coach two ways: (a) Having a sensational blow-them-out-of-water sprint or (b) Having a high-speed cruising run. Either is fine. Increasing foot speed is a remarkably difficult feat, though. My suggestion is to work on increasing the speed of the “chop” in your run — you know the quickness of your foot hitting the ground. In particular, the best way to do this is speeding through “tire” or ladder drills.  You can do these at home on your own simply by laying a ladder on the ground and running through the openings as fast as possible — making sure not to trip.
  • ONE-TOUCH POSSESSION — Over in Ireland, the one-touch possession is taught at the earliest levels of learning the sport of hurling. The theory of the one-touch is that you need to gain possession of the ball in one attempt. You can’t drop it or bobble it. You need to gain immediate possession. This buys you time on the field because the other players are still reacting from their own attempt to gain control of the sliotar for themselves. Increasing your one-touch performance is best with the assistance of another player, or at least a person willing to throw the ball to you. To practice have the other player throw or hit the ball toward you. Your job is to scramble for the catch or, if you don’t make it, pop it up from the ground and gain immediate possession. Once you do, take three steps and fire it back to your helper.
  • ACCURATE PASSING — One of the key skills of the game, passing helps teams keep control of the ball, which means more scoring opportunities. When you practice passing, you must practice at both short distances and long distances, and while you are in motion. The exercise in the section above transitions into the exercise you can do to improve your passing. Once you have the ball, you must get it within three yards of the your target.  If you haven’t recruited a helper, that’s fine — just fire your passes at a tree trunk or other vertical target. Remember, your passes shouldn’t necessarily be powerhouse hits. A more gentle strike will help your teammate catch the sliotar.
  • ACCURATE STRIKING — This skill is key for everyone, not just midfielders and full forwards. You need to practice hitting the ball into a goal or a goal-like structure. Most of all, practice making points because “racking up points” is the scoring style that can be entirely in your control — the opposing team can rarely take a point from you once it gets over their heads. Scoring goals, on the other hand, requires being close and betting on the fact that the goalkeeper is off his game.  To work on point-scoring, strike from a variety of distances and, most importantly, angles with the intent to hit a high-up zone in the point-scoring area. Don’t have any hurling goals around? Never fear. I’ve substituted batting cages, baseball backstops, football goal posts and even trees for my practice goal.  Further, remember that you need to be making these strikes while on the run. Nobody in hurling will let you stand around and take a shot at the goal.

Visit the Columbia Red Branch Hurling Club in the Portland, Wash., area.

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Dig up hurling videos on YouTube

SEE IT PLAYED: Finding hurling videos on YouTube can be somewhat challenging. One tip is to look up videos featuring some of the game's best players, such as D.J. Carey.

SEE IT PLAYED: Finding hurling videos on YouTube can be somewhat challenging. One tip is to look up videos featuring some of the game’s best players, such as D.J. Carey.

Mike, a reader from St. Louis, chimed in with a few questions and comments about hurling. First up, he mentioned his efforts to find hurling clips on YouTube.

I’m brand new to hurling, just picked it up two weeks ago for a local club. I am in love with the game already, I have been watching clips on Youtube almost nonstop, and I can’t wait for the season to start.
When I first started this blog, YouTubers had posted very few videos on hurling. Or at least that’s what I thought. The real problem was that I was using the wrong search terms. “Hurling” is generally OK, but you won’t find a lot of game clips. It’s like typing in “football” and hoping to get Seattle Seahawks videos.
Since Americans aren’t terribly familiar with the sport, its terms, its teams or its legendary players, they have a hard time figuring out what keywords to use in their searches.
With American ignorance in mind, here some valuable hurling-related search terms for use on YouTube and the Internet in general:
  • “Hurling skills” -- There’s a series of Gaelic Athletic Association videos on developing basic skills of the game. These mostly feature kids learning, but in truth most Americans are at this level.
  • “Hurling drills” — Here you will find a few ideas for team drills you can run.
  • “GAA” followed by an Irish county name, “Kilkenny,” “Galway” “Cork” and “Tipperary” will generally get you the best clips.
  • “All-Ireland” will help you find some high-skill matches.
  • “Christy Ring,” “Eoin Kelly,” “Henry Shefflin” “D.J. Carey” and “Joe Canning” are some of the great athletes of the sport, all worth searching.
  • “RTE” coupled with hurling will find you plenty of great commentary on the sport. RTE is one of the broadcasters that carries the sport on Irish television.
  • “Hurling” coupled with “goal,” “free,” “puck,” “tackle,” “solo” or “sideline” will dig up some skill videos as well as some great game clips.

I’ll get to more of Mike’s letter next time, where he asks about offense, speed and on-the-field jitters.

Have you got a hurling-related question for Hurley to Rise? Even if I can’t answer it, I’ll find someone who can. Just send me an e-mail at john@johnsimcoe.com

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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.

HOW THIS IMAGE CAN HELP YOUR CLUB

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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Goaltenders: Between a rock and a hard place

In my previous post, I discussed playing goal for the Baltimore Bohemians hurling squad and promised to expand upon it further.

Baltimoregaa.com

Visit the Baltimore GAA website at www.baltimoregaa.com or "Like" them on Facebook.

I’ll get to some tips in a bit, but first we must enter what reality TV calls the “confessional” — where a show’s participant talks directly to the camera about his feelings and his reflections about what just happened. It’s a moment of retrospect, where the celeb tries to rationalize his actions.

That’s just what I need to do about being a goalkeeper, so here goes:

As I’ve mentioned before, I am far from a great hurling player. I love the sport, but I just don’t have the exact combination of skills to really excel at the game.

That basic fact hasn’t deterred me from continuing to play. Still I have wondered “What should my role be on a hurling team?”

This year I began to explore something I tried briefly in the previous season: Goaltending.

There are a few reasons why I wanted to look into this position. First, I don’t have any problem with shouldering the blame for my failures. One of the primary reasons people don’t like to play goaltender in any sport is because it’s incredibly easy to be awful in the position. If you let a ball or a puck pass you, everyone knows it. There’s no middle ground. You either win or you lose.

It’s a pressure position, and I tend to work well under pressure. So I was good with that.

The second reason I was willing to take on the position is because, well, I’m “the fat kid.”

Through most of my life that’s who I’ve been when I’m on a sports team. In most instances, that means I’m on defenseman. That’s what I played in my brief stints in soccer and roller hockey. In baseball, I was a right fielder — tucked away where I could do the least amount of damage to the team. That’s exactly where you put the fat kid, someplace where he can’t mess up for being too slow or too uncoordinated.

But when there’s a surplus of players, the fat kid gets shifted even farther away from the action. He becomes a “sub.” He waits on the sidelines for someone to get hurt or to perform terribly or to become too tired.  When they come out, the sub goes in. And if the coach has his way, the sub stays on the field for as short of a time as possible.

I don’t blame the coach for making that choice. He’s trying to win. He knows that the fat kid has only so much fuel in his tank. He knows that “the sub” has only so much drive and skill.

Thirdly, I know I’m not the fastest guy on the field. Heck, I’m not even the fastest guy among the subs. In fact, I know I’m not. In goal, I figured, running speed isn’t as important as reaction speed.

And so, early this year, I decided to make a concerted effort to get myself in goal.

The results weren’t great, but I learned a lot about the position. I doubt it will happen but I’d like to try it again, especially if they let me practice at the position more thoroughly. And really, who wouldn’t want to shoot things at me?

GOALTENDING: Can you handle the pressure of being a goaltender in hurling?

GOAL-TENDING TIPS

So while I’m not a great goal-tender, I managed to get some good pointers on playing the position. Here goes:

  • STAY IN FRONT OF THE BALL: Yes, that makes sense. To keep the ball out of the net, you want to stay in front of the ball. But the more important point of this tip is that you want to block the ball with your entire body. Don’t reach for it. Move to it. If you reach for the ball, you must catch it. If you move your body to the ball, it can block the ball if you fail to catch it. Essentially, you want your body to be your backup for a bad catch.
  • BIG GOAL: Remember, the goal in hurling is positively massive compared to the size of the sliotar. It’s like hitting a baseball into a soccer goal. The best way to protect the goal is to have a strong defensive line that doesn’t let the ball come near you. After that, it’s just you protecting that big space. What’s you’re role in that? Well, see the next tip:
  • BE A TALKER: On the field, you have the best view of all the action. Talk actively to your team. Tell them who’s open. Tell them who needs to be covered and what gaps need to be filled. Point out weaknesses in the team. Be vocal about any observation you have. The more you talk to your team, the more they will support you.
  • DON’T TURN, MOVE LATERALLY: Never turn toward the ball as it comes in. This gives you less “stopping area” to halt the sliotar’s forward progress. Instead, move side-to-side across the goal area.
  • YOUR FEET: It might seem counter-intuitive, but don’t stand with your legs spread apart, a position that expands your stopping area. While it does do that, it also makes it more difficult for you to move quickly side to side. Instead, stand at the ready with your feet directly under your shoulders. This lets you shift from side-to-side at a moments notice. A wider stance will force you into taking an extra step — the movement that brings your foot underneath your shoulder before your can move farther to the side.
  • THE GOALTENDER’S HURLEY: The hurley used by goaltenders has a wider wedge at the end of it. This is about the only advantage offered to goaltenders. Typically, this upgraded stick is used to block shots and to pass the ball out to your teammates. The problem is that since it’s bigger, it’s also slower to swing. When you get a puck out, switch to a regular playing stick for a better hit. When you’re waiting for shots on goal, use the goaltender stick.
  • USING YOUR HURLEY: As you try to block shots with your hurley, the preferred hold is slightly different than a normal player’s. You want one hand on the grip, and the other way up toward the top of the business end. You should use your dominant hand on the business end and adjust the angle of the hurley on the fly to deflect the ball to your teammates. Alternatively, angle the stick to create a nice bounce that you can catch. Most importantly, hold the stick vertically in front of the core of your body. This forces you to move yourself between the ball and the goal, rather than your stick. When you’re stopping shots, don’t reach into a wide open space with your hurley unless you’re absolutely sure you can’t get there in time.
  • STOPPING POINTS: The only time you should reach with your hurley is if you think you can stop a point from being scored. However, only do that when there aren’t any opposing players in your zone. There’s nothing worse than stopping a point, only to have it converted into a goal by a quick-thinking full forward.
  • HOLD THE BALL: Some people might consider this bad advice, but if you’re in the heat of the moment and desperate, simply hold on to the ball, wait for the whistle to blow and let the referee sort things out. Technically, if you have possession of the ball you’ve got a few seconds to figure out what to do with it, after that you’ve committed a foul. A foul by the goaltender will result in a free from the 20 meter line. But here’s the rub: Getting a foul is better than giving up the ball right on the goal line. If the ref calls a foul, you’ll have your teammates to help you defend the goal, where you might not have earlier. Even better, your delay might cause another player to foul you, in which case you’ll get just what you wanted: a puck out. Honestly, it’s a risk worth taking.
  • CREATE TIME: The game of hurling is very fast paced and extremely exhausting. Whenever you have the ball and aren’t being threatened by an opposing player (like when you get to puck out), take your time and stretch out the play. Give your players a chance to get open. Give them a chance to rest. The best way to create time is to take a moment to trade your hurley for another one or simply pace the sideline. Don’t do this for long, but a 10 or 15 second delay can be just what your team needs.
  • GET PHYSICAL: Don’t be afraid to apply a check to an opposing player coming in on you. As long as you have the ball, you’re allowed to give a shoulder check. A person more familiar with the rules than I says the striked-out portion of this tip actually a foul. Sorry about that. However, you certainly can throw a shoulder check while they have the ball or if you are both struggling to get control of the sliotar. Doing this will give you time and space to make your next move. It will also give your teammates time to get in and help you.
  • SCRAMBLE: Don’t be afraid to leave the goaltender’s parallelogram in your effort to keep the game under your control. You should be willing to scramble, run and aggressively go after the sliotar, and those actions can lead you far away from your safe area. In those times, expect to be bashed and whacked, but you can get some great results. While you’re out there, at least one of your defensive backs should be covering the goal for you. But what’s the benefit of leaving the goal zone? Two things: 1 — You might have a little more energy than your players, so you can briefly help them rest and  reorganize.  2 — You should leave your zone if you think you can get to the ball first,  send it away and keep the game under your control.

Have you got any goaltending tips? Are some of these crazy? Speak up in the comments!

 

 

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