The Diagram Group takes a look at hurling

The Diagram Group is a great company, based in New York, I believe, that makes a living showing people the fine details of everyday things.

KNOW THE SPORT: In 1974, the Diagram Group offered a look at how the game of hurling was played.

KNOW THE SPORT: In 1974, the Diagram Group offered a look at how the game of hurling was played.

In particular, they use drawings and infographics to explain complex subjects, such as how sword designs changed over the centuries or the wide variety of musical instruments that have been created since the dawn of time.

The company also has several editions available of its book called “Rules of the Game,” where each entry takes a look at how a variety of sports are played. Not only does it go over the playing rules, but it also offers layouts of how the playing surface should look and equipment to be used.

For a person totally new to a sport it can be extremely helpful to have the topic so thoroughly explored and in an extremely visual way.

With that in mind, I give you the 1974 version of the “Rules of the Game” entry on hurling. There have been several updates since the 1974 version, and while I have one of the newer editions, but since the sport has changed very little since then, the 1974 version generally works for a new player, even if the drawings are quaintly ugly.

In fact the only two changes I can detect between now and then are that helmets are now mandatory and what the Diagram Group is calling a “Throw In,” which is something I’ve never heard of. I’m not intimately familiar with the more-arcane rules, so it might still exist.

Even better, go grab a copy of the modern version of the “Rules of the Game” for yourself. Not only can you show people how to play hurling, but you get some idea on how to play other non-American sports such as korfball and shinty. If that’s not enough, why not brush up on your knowledge of how gymnastics is actually scored and the required size of baseball diamonds?

Want to see bigger images of these pages? Click here for Hurling Page 1 and Hurling Page 2.

FOULS: The Diagram Group shows some of the ways you can get in trouble in the sport of hurling.

FOULS: The Diagram Group shows some of the ways you can get in trouble in the sport of hurling.

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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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So you’re interested in hurling?

Hurling is catching on in America, and clubs are eager to show you more about the sport. Don't hesitate to contact your local GAA.

Hurling is catching on in America, and clubs are eager to show you more about the sport. Don’t hesitate to contact your local GAA.

St. Patrick’s Day is almost upon us, and that (according to my blog statistics) means that there’s a sudden, huge upswing in the interest in the sport of hurling here in America.

Well then, I’m glad you found Hurley to Rise. Since I started writing this blog in 2009, I’ve watched as this sport has grown exponentially across the United States.

Clubs are popping up in more and more cities here in the U.S., and not just the big, name-brand cities, but the smaller cities too. Likewise, there’s similar growth in colleges.

But if you’re looking into hurling for the first time, I figured you might be interested in learning the basics of the sport before you venture out to join your local club.

SOME TERMS: Over on this page, I have slowly been adding a list of hurling and gaelic football-related terms to help newcomers to the game. No need to be completely ignorant on the sport, right? (Seasoned American hurlers, please suggest terms to add!)

A QUICK OVERVIEW: The extreme basics of hurling are covered here. Most importantly, watch the video, which is the best explanation you’ll find of the sport.  You can also learn more in this section of the Hurley to Rise blog: The basics of hurling

ATHLETIC LEVEL: The best hurling players in the world are in spectacular shape. In fact, many of the hurlers here in America look pretty good too. If you play, you might soon find yourself fit as a fiddle as well. But to start out in the game, you don’t need to be an amazing athlete — or any sort of athlete at all (which was/is my case). This is a sport that is easy to learn, but difficult to master. If you can accept the fact that you may never be a master at it, you can play. My advice, just give it a try and have fun.

PHYSICAL CHALLENGES: In hurling, you do a lot of running — usually in the form of stop-and-go sprinting. You also might get bumped around by other players. That being said, I’m a horrible sprinter. Slow as molasses, in fact.  To me, it doesn’t matter. I just like to get out there and my teammates seem to be accepting of that.

SKILLS: Aside from running around a lot, there’s a few other skills (hitting and catching the ball) you’ll develop as a hurler. I have offered tutorials of these skills in a variety of blog posts. I suggest you check out some of them by visiting the “Skill Development” section.

WHAT TO BRING:Aside from enthusiasm and a willingness to try something new, you should:

  • Wear shorts and a t-shirt.
  • Bring a water bottle.
  • Bring a spare t-shirt, too. One of your shirts should be light colored (white or yellow), the other should be dark (Navy, black, dark green or dark brown). The spare is so you can be split into teams for a scrimmage.
  • If you have them, bring cleats, otherwise sneakers are fine.
  • If you’re of drinking age, many clubs have drinks after their practice, so bring some money for that.
  • If you have some sort of sports helmet (Lacrosse helmets being the best), bring it.
  • A towel to wipe down is also a good thing.

EQUIPMENT: Most clubs will have spare equipment available. You won’t have to bring your own hurley (the stick) or sliotar (the ball). Helmets are usually at a  premium, but many clubs do have spares. Once you decide whether or not you like the sport, you can order your own later on.

COST: Hurling isn’t a very expensive sport despite the unique nature of it. Here’s a rundown:

  • Stick ($35-$75)
  • Ball ($10 per ball. We’d suggest you get at least 3 of your own)
  • Helmet ($110. Often provided by the club.)
  • Membership fee (Varies. My club’s yearly fee is less than $100)
  • Traveling (Varies. Many clubs travel to other cities for games. This isn’t a requirement, but it’s a lot of fun)

WHAT ELSE? Quite simply, prepare to have a lot of fun. Prepare for some exciting challenges. Hurling is a great game, and we welcome you to it.

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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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You need both your hands in hurling

TWO-FER: Always use two hands when scooping up a grounded sliotar.

When you watch a game of professional basketball you see players do some amazing things and you want to be like them. You want to nail that flying dunk from 10 feet out. You want to spin away from your opponents and sink a solid jumping shot.

But truth be told, not everyone can do that. For the average guy at the local playground court, it’s an impossibility. It’s just not in his wheelhouse.

The same can be said for those of us picking up hurling.

We can watch YouTube videos of top matches with players who dedicate their lives to the game and pick up unrealistic expectations — or even worse, lazy habits.

I was reminded of one of my lazy habits and unrealistic expectations at a recent practice.
“Keep both you hands on the hurley. You aren’t playing for Tipp,” he said, referring to the County Tipperary team, one of the best groups of hurlers in the world.

The frank comparison was referring to my repeated efforts to scoop up a grounded sliotar with my hurley. Instead of keeping one hand at the bas (the hitting end) and one on the handle, I kept on trying to manipulate the hurley with just my “handle hand.”

The top-level players can do one-handed pick-ups in their sleep. They have the muscle memory to do it right. I do not.

Instead, what I need to do — and what nearly every hurling player needs to do — is manipulate the hurley with two hands and not try to show off.

Once they’ve played at Tipp’s levels for a season or two, the coaches will lay off, until then it’s “two hands on the hurley unless one of is holding the ball.”

Some key points to remember:

  • CONTROL THE ACTION: If you don’t have two hands on the hurley, the hurley is naturally harder to control — it can go wild. That means that when you take a one-handed whack at the ball, you’re never sure where it’s going. That same reasoning can be applied to a one-handed ground-ball pick-up: Without that extra control, it might roll off unexpectedly or pop up out away from your ball hand. Keeping both hands on the hurley lets you adjust quicker and maintain control.
  • CLOSE TO THE ACTION: If you don’t have both hands on the hurley, you have to be deadly accurate with your pop-up to your hand. Instead, keep your non-dominant hand on the bas of the hurley when you’re picking up ground balls. This lets you transfer it quickly and smoothly to that hand — the same hand that is now just inches away from the ball and ready to grab it.
  • CUT TO THE ACTION: It’s important to remember that the ball just has to be off the ground to grab it — there’s no exact measure, just “off the ground.” That means that as soon as your hurley is between the ball and the pitch, you can take it into your hand. That’s a perfect reason to do ground ball pick-ups with two hands. You can literally cut out the entire “popping up” action if you’re willing to bend over and grab the ball.

Images from and


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Irish Sports 101: How it’s done

It was a bit cold and definitely quite wet Sunday morning when I stepped out of my car and into Baltimore’s Latrobe Park.

There the Baltimore Gaelic Athletic Association was presenting its annual rite of Spring: Gaelic Sports 101, where anyone with an interest in hurling or gaelic football could come out and try the sports for themselves.

The hurling group included total newbies and returning players.  The veterans were assigned training buddies and we were split out among three different skills stations.

All of the stations offered basic instruction on the game — how to hold the hurley, basic rules and a look at the philosophies of the sport.

It was a simple practice, but it was meant to be just that. More importantly, it was a great template that other clubs can follow to introduce the sport to locals.

Here’s how it all came together.


A few minutes after the class’ start time, the team coaches and managers call everyone into a circle. After some basic introductions of the key personnel, talk about the game and offer an extremely brief history. Follow that with a quick rundown of key terms (hurley, sliotar, goal, point, solo, handpass)  and how scoring works.

With the basic description still floating in their heads, the group was split among three skill stations. New and old players were purposely mixed together.


SKILLS: You can learn the basics of hurling in just a few minutes.

In this station, players got quick instruction on how to execute a legal handpass. It was stressed that you can’t throw the ball to another player — you swat or scoop it. The group is split into teams of two for the exercise where they handpass to one another. The starting distance was only two or three yards, but gradually the gap widens as they get better.

Important points to stress:

  • Practice handpasses with both hands.
  • After you pass the ball, return to the ready position.
  • Keep your feet moving during the exercise.
  • Learn your partner’s name. Talk to them. Get used to talking and playing at the same time.


At this station, players are again separated into groups of two, who then swat the ball on the ground back and forth to one another. Players focus on getting a solid, clean hit on the ball and learning how to stop it.

GIVE IT A WHACK: Learning to "ground hurl" provides a basic lesson on how to hold your stick.

After some time, two groups of two join together to form a longer line of four people. The middle two people focus on speeding up the ball as it goes by them. The end players focus on stopping a quick moving ball and then immediately sending it in the opposite direction.

Some key points to remember here:

  • Practice hitting the ball from the right and left side.
  • Remember you can stop (but not step on) the ball with your feet. Watch out it could hurt!
  • The ideal position to ground strike the ball is to have one foot a few inches to the ball. The foot should be perpendicular to the direction you want to send the ball. This makes the arc of your swing land exactly where the ball is.
  • You can stop the ball by making it hit the flat of your hurley and ride up the stick.


This is the most fun of the three stations, but it’s also the hardest to master because there are several skills involved. First you need to be able to hit the ball. You also need to be able to control the direction and distance it gets hit. Third, you have to be able to catch the ball one-handed.

Once again, split the players into pairs and have them hit the ball to one another.

Important reminders to go over:

  • Don’t throw the ball up as if you were hitting fly balls in baseball. The longer a ball stays in the air next to you, the more likely an opponent can disrupt your swing, or even grab the ball for himself.
  • Your strongest hand should be at the bottom of the hurley handle. This is the exact opposite of a baseball grip.
  • To make the ball go a shorter distance, choke up on the handle.
  • The speed and strength of your strike do not help a ball go farther. It’s all in the follow through and in your ability to make the ball hit the hurley’s “sweet spot.”
  • Always try to catch the sliotar in your non-dominant hand.
  • If the ball is going over your head, try to stop it by raising your hurley to meet it. Catching it is better because you have instant control, but this is helpful, especially if you are defending.


With a basic skill level now established, bring all the players back together and tell them that now it’s game time!

Give the team a quick idea of how long they will play, explain the boundaries and basic rules about contact with other players. This is a good time to discuss safety issues as well.

Split the teams up on even sides, but then pit veterans and new players against one another when you assign positions. This lets the vets talk about the game and its strategies when the action has moved away from them.

IN THE GAME: A quick, light-hearted game for new players can get them some helpful experience that will make them understand the game better.


Launch into a light-hearted mini-game. Call penalties. Stop the game to explain things. Keep things light. Congratulate people for good plays and scores. Help people up that fall.

This is a time to show your brotherhood.


After the set amount of play time, bring everyone back together and talk about what you want to do this season. Tell the players when the next practice will be. Gather up contact information for those interested. Explain ways that newbies can get equipment of their own.

Then wait and see what happens next time.

Images courtesy of the Baltimore GAA Facebook Page and Bill Hughes.


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