It’s time again for the Super Bowl of hurling

Killlkenny Scorecard

GOING FOR FIVE: This graphic was created by the Irish Independent, a national newspaper in Ireland. See the full story on Kilkenny here: http://www.independent.ie/sport/hurling/evolution-of-drive-for-five-2319500.html

You may not have noticed this, but there’s something out across the Atlantic, and it’s not Hurricane Earl. Over in Ireland, hurling, the sport this blog is dedicated to, is making big news as that country’s two best squads are prepping for the 2010 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.

To you and me, that’s like the Super Bowl of hurling.  As with the 2009 Championship, the two teams are Kilkenny and Tipperary. If Kilkenny, the favorite, wins it will be the fifth straight title for the county.

Not to be outdone though, we Americans are playing for our own title this weekend.  Hurling teams from around our country are gathering this weekend in Chicago for the North American Championship.

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Hurling coverage resurfaces in America

Updating a previous post of mine, Hoganstand.com, a Web site that covers hurling and gaelic football, says here that a new channel will be offering gaelic game coverage to North America.MHz logo

MHz, which is a small network based out of Washington, D.C., is part of the lineup for some cable and satellite systems. Comcast, Dish and DirecTV are all listed as showing MHz, but the organization of the list implies that it only offers service to customers in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Regardless, you can bet I’ll be checking my version of Dish Network when I get home.

(Thanks to Mark for the tip!)
This news gives me an opening to point those interested in hurling to a few additional Web sites, particularly if you’re a fan of  so-called “top-level play,” which means “games that feature athletes who don’t get paid, but could outrun, outhit and outlast high-paid jocks like A-Rod”:

  • Hoganstand, which is a magazine in Ireland, has a site that allows users to get a wide variety of game stories from across the country. To me it seems to be the best source of information on a daily basis.Sliotar Issue 4
  • The Irish Independent, Ireland’s biggest newspaper, offers daily coverage on the sports too, but seems to lack the broad coverage Hoganstand offers.
  • Sliotar is an online magazine that you can have e-mailed to you for free in PDF format. Aside from match coverage, it usually contains a historical features too. “Sliotar,” by the way, is the Irish word for a hurling ball.
  • Hurling World offers news too, but the best part of it for me is that they have an extensive YouTube library of game clips available.

Of course, all that may be just too much “inside baseball” for the average American who’s actually playing hurling. In a later post, I’ll try to point you to some sites that offer tips on playing the game.

Got any hurling sites you like? Give me some ideas by commenting!

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Immediate improvement

Me & the GAA

During my training experience last Sunday, one thing became clear rather quickly: Seeing real people was a big help. (And you can see me in the picture above. I’m in the back with the bright blue shirt.)
As you know, I’ve been working for almost a year now to learn hurling, the Irish sport that’s a little bit lacrosse and a little bit hockey. My effort has been stalled or sidelined time and time again by my inability to figure things out.

Mostly, I had been relying on the Internet  to see how things are done, but fuzzy videos and sparse training tips could only get me so far.

But stepping on to the field with people who know what they’re doing had some immediate impact on my skills.

WRIST ACTION – I had read it time and time again, but I didn’t completely get it. The advice often simple says “You don’t speed up through your swing like baseball.”

I thought I understood it, and just by providing a single-speed hit did give me improvement, but the real “A-Ha!” moment on Sunday was someone saying that hitting the ball is all in the wrist.

You don’t twist your trunk like you do in baseball. You just get the stick moving with your wrists in a clock-like rotation. That generates enough velocity to fire the ball a long way.

And even better? It doesn’t leave your hands sore!

After practice on Sunday, I hit a local soccer field and tried it out again and again.

The result: Immediate improvement.

ACCURACY -- In the months of solo work, I could never exactly pinpoint the way I should expect the ball to fly after hitting it. This may seem like an obvious thing, but I was always expecting the ball to launch perpendicular to me, like lacrosse.hitdirection.jpg

A few minutes into the clinic, I found I should expect it to launch more like a baseball, where the ball jets roughly parallel from your body stance.

So at any given time, I had no clue where my ball was going to go. With this knowledge of the “right way,” I tried working it on the soccer field.

The result: Immediate improvement as my hits were landing just about where I expected them.

PICK-UPS & STANCE — I had often clumsily managed to scoop the ball up with the flat of my stick. Sure, I could do it, but it never went super smoothly.

It would hop here or there. Or I’d just nudge it along ahead of me by mistake.

A few simple tips from the Baltimore GAA, and I was doing notably better.

First off, the Internet advised that I keep my hurley level with the ground. But what they didn’t mention is that you should be practically on top of the ball to pop it into your hand.

Also, the ‘Net directions didn’t mention this tidbit: It’s a whole lot easier to pick up the ball when you’re moving than it is when you’re standing still.

The reason? Momentum. You’re chugging along and basically overwhelm the ball’s own forward motion. This all but delivers it right into your hand.

Finally, as I complained about here, you’ve really got to squat down to get possession of the ball.

The result: Immediate improvement.

“FREES” – One thing that always baffled me is the “Free.” This is a penalty-shot like manuever where a player must pick up the ball with the stick and immediately shoot it — without ever touching it by hand.

Quite literally, the player slides the hurley under the grounded ball, balances it for a moment while he gets his bearings, with his target determined, he pops it up in the air from the stick and, with the ball in motion now, draws the stick back strikes the ball.
It looks really hard, but with some simple adjustments of my hand placement on my stick, I gave it a try.

The result: Immediate improvement — scratch that. The result was that I could actually do it.Baltimore GAA logo

NEWS ITEM 1: Baltimore is always looking for new players interested in learning hurling. You can find out more about their practice this Sunday by going here. (Unfortunately, I can’t make it this week.)

NEWS ITEM 2: If you’re just intrigued by hurling in general, RTE, an Irish TV network, is again offering match highlights on its video player. You can watch Waterford take on Cork in this video, which is 22 minutes long, but packed with action. The game is only available for a limited time.

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You can watch the Super Bowl of hurling

Hurling equipment -- Hurley and sliotarI’ve been preaching to you for a few months now about how amazing this sport called hurling is, and now I can actually direct you to a real game played by the best hurlers in the world.

No, this isn’t grainy youtube footage, or even choppy feeds from RTE, Ireland’s primary hurling broadcaster.

This is the real deal, an actual full length game with all the play-by-play and color commentators you need.

The only problem? You have to subscribe to the Setanta Sports network.

Setanta is the “NFL Network” of soccer and rugby. While those two sports dominate the broadcast schedule, it also sneaks in one or two GAA games each week. (The Gaelic Athletic Association is the governing body of hurling and gaelic football.)

As a Dish Network subscriber, I only stumbled upon the network when I hit the wrong button on my remote, which showed me the free channel previews the satellite company offered. I recognized the name Setanta from my reading on hurling and zipped over to the station to scrutinize the schedule.

What’s great about this find is the timing: The “Super Bowl” of hurling happens this Sunday, and Setanta will rebroadcast it at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8. I can only hope my free preview will last until then. The match, by the way, features County Tipperary vs. County Kilkenny.gaa_logo

While I am fearing I won’t have the channel by Tuesday, I did get a chance to enjoy two GAA games so far: Gaelic football semifinals as that sport advances to its own “Super Bowl.” One game was quite wild and high-scoring. The other? A bit of a dud.

As for any interest you may have in Setanta, be aware that they seem to only broadcast one or two GAA games a week. The $15 subscription fee will certainly give you pause unless you’re also a rugby and soccer fan.

Aside from Dish Network, subscribers to DirecTV can get order the network. Unfortunately Comcast isn’t so free-wheeling with its channels. Comcasters in Harrisburg can get it, but for now Yorkers are left in the dark.

Still, if you’re a Dish Network subscriber, this is your chance. Set your DVR to channel 406 and take a peek at this amazing game. It’s the finals, and I’m sure you’ll be impressed.

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How to watch hurling

Thus far, I’ve only been able to see hurling matches on the Internet. RTE is an Irish television network that airs many matches for its viewers. Luckily for fans in the U.S., it also provides a feed starting on Wednesday of some of Sunday’s matches. I’ve found that the feed gets really choppy for my home-based Internet, which is a DSL service.

Aside from the poor playback, it’s a struggle to watch since the viewing window can’t be resized, and the RTE cameras offer a wide-field focus. That means the little sliotar is absolutely tiny, and it can be tough to follow a little white dot as it zips around the screen.

RTE’s site doesn’t offer entire 60-plus minute games, instead, the network presents key moments of its games. This usually results in a 10- to 15-minute broadcast of some intense hurling action. I suspect that Irish television viewers see the whole game though, and this trim-downed version is part of  “The Sunday Game,” which is the “SportsCenter” of hurling and gaelic football, and it typically offers a wrap-up of all the day’s action.

You can check out RTE’s text and video coverage here.

YouTube offers an alternative outlet for viewing hurling games. Surprisingly, searching “hurling” on the site doesn’t generate many hits covering the aftermath of binge drinking. Instead, you actually get links to the sport. Who woulda thought?!?

With just a few videos so far, the user known as HurlingTime offers 10-minute videos from recent games. HurlingTime, by the way, is the YouTube persona of Hurling World, an e-magazine dedicated to the sport.

The videos that HurlingTime posts are just dubs of RTE coverage, so there’s no telling how long they will remain on the site. Regardless, they’re better quality than what RTE offers, since you aren’t taxing your bandwidth to pull the entire telecast of “The Sunday Game.”

http://youtu.be/BGWMXA9WGGQ

But before you go off and abandon RTE and “The Sunday Game,” be sure to note that the network offers a few instructional videos for novices, and some of their special reports within  “The Sunday Game” can be quite interesting. One report took an in-depth look at an aging player who still works out with his local team.

Another simply asked the nation’s best players what they listen to on their iPods.

Creed and Johnny Cash were mentioned, but more than one of them said “What iPod? I don’t have an iPod.”

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