Reflections on a day in Allentown

Two days later and my hamstrings are still pretty shaky from my game time at the recent round-robin hurling tournament in South Whitehall Township, Pa.

The Saturday, May 5, Gaelic Athletic Association event was hosted by the the Allentown Hibernians Hurling Club, and also featured teams from Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Md. Hoboken, N.J., and Washington, D.C.

The Hoboken squad, the Guards, won the tournament, and my squad, the Baltimore Bohemians, came in third.

Here's the score-sheet from the May 5 games in Allentown. Scores in hurling are listed with two numbers per team. The first number is the number of goals scored, the second is the number of over-the-crossbar points the teams notched. Each over-the-crossbar shot earns one point to the final score. Each goal is worth three points.

THE SETTING

Just like last year, the tournament took place in the shadow of Dorney Park at a glen off of Haines Mill Road. Although there was only one Port-a-Potty for the 100-or-so players, everything else was great. The field itself was the best I’ve played on so far, with springy short grass and regulation-sized goals.

In the world of American hurling, both of those are quite a rarity. Most of the time we’re playing on the “left-over” or forgotten fields not used by anyone else. As for goals, sometimes we use way-too small lacrosse goals. Other times, we get soccer goals that have nets meant to stop soccer balls, not baseball-sized sliotars. And more than once, we’ve just been defending a slightly modified American football goal.

But Allentown? They made us feel appreciated and even bought lunch for players from every team. And every team that showed up got a 12-pack of sliotars, the super-expensive and easy-to-lose specialty balls used in the game.

Along with their great hospitality, the Hibernians welcomed the good people of Handcraft Hurleys, who brought in a nice selection of merchandise for hurling players. There were hurling gloves, hurleys of all sizes, boxes of sliotars and a big pile of helmets up for grabs.

Since nearly all the hurling equipment in America came via mail-order from Ireland, Handcraft’s set up offered a  nice opportunity to be able to check out some merchandise before purchase and not have to pay shipping costs to boot.

IN THE GAMES

Since I’m not one of my squad’s premier players, I didn’t see a ton of playing time with the Baltimore team. I managed a few minutes here and there, usually at the end of the games.

For this I am not at all ashamed. I’m an old guy (a crippling 39!) and I’m awfully slow. I’m a fill-in and I’m OK with that that role.

But the trip wasn’t a waste of time for me at all. Since Baltimore had an excess of players, those of us who weren’t going to get much time playing with Baltimore, were offered up to teams that were short of players for the 13-per-side games.

That’s how I got to play for the D.C. Gaels for two games, and where I saw most of my action for the day. In those games I was playing full forward right up next to the opposing team’s goal.

I ran my heart out, swatted at opposing players, dug for the ball and generally had a good, if not tiring, time while wearing the white and blue. But did I score? Nope, not yet. That miracle is still eluding me.

D.C. STRIKES BACK

My longest stint on the field for the Baltimore team is also what hurt us the most. In the weeks prior to the tournament, I had been lightly training for a shot as the goalkeeper, and by the time we were up against D.C. in our final game of the day, I got the call.

And I was dreadful.

I might have been in goal for a total of 10 minutes, and in that time, I let three goals trickle past me. In hurling, getting three goals is gigantic. It’s supposed to be tough, and I guess I didn’t make it tough enough. After that third goal against me, I was pulled from the position, a ruling I agreed with 100 percent.

(I’ll talk more about my goal-tending experience in a later post, because it was a learning experience.)

Luckily for me, the Bohemians rallied for a tie after I put us in the hole. I appreciate that, guys. I was a failure, but you came up big to pull us out of a loss.

The Pittsburgh team had a five-hour drive to the Allentown tournament. They placed fourth in the event.

THE PITTSBURGH GAME

The most amusing point of the day for the Bohemians was when we realized that we were about to play the Pittsburgh team, and their jersey colors were the exact same as ours. Both squads adopted a yellow and black color scheme (Baltimore’s mirrors the Maryland flag and Pittsburgh’s copies the city’s pro-sports team colors).

After some negotiations, we borrowed Allentown’s alternate solid green jerseys and hit the field. Still there weren’t enough jerseys to go around, so some of us had to wear our own shirts. I, for example, had brought two shirts from home — a blue polyester athletic shirt and, luckily, a green t-shirt to wear on the way home. I quickly dawned it and was a proud representative of Team Pitfall! and the Bohemians.

After the game, most of the Bohs said it was a tough adjustment. They kept said they kept thinking about passing to the yellow-and-black squad, instead of the green team.

WHAT’S THE SCORE?

One recurring theme in every game I watched and in every game I played is that no one ever knew for sure what the score was.

If you were on the field, on the sidelines or just watching as a spectator, you were completely unaware of the exact point count since there weren’t any billboards posting the score. Sure, we kind of knew who was winning, but you were never sure by how much.

Instead, we just kept playing and hoping for the best.

But next time, someone needs to bring out a big and highly visible whiteboard to keep us up-to-the-minute. It will be great help to keep up the fighting spirit for those trying to come out of a deficit.

NEWS ACCOUNTS

The tournament brought out at least two news media organizations. The Easton Times Express has coverage here.

A TV station, whom I couldn’t identify and can’t seem to locate a report from, was also filming for some time. (Anyone know who that was?)

Advance coverage came from the South Whitehall Patch, which can be seen here.

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A look at the Northeast Hurling Blitz

Allentown's T. J. Hirsh (13) looks for his teammates positions in a hurling match against Hoboken at Haines Mill field on Saturday, July 23. Credit: Betty Cauler of the South Whitehall Patch.

With high humidity and temperatures climbing into the mid 90s, four American hurling teams came together in the shadow of Dorney Park for the Northeast Hurling Blitz in Allentown, Pa., on Saturday, July 23.

The day was hosted (and won) by the Allentown Hibernians, who went 3-0. Also attending was the Baltimore Bohemians, the Hoboken Guards and the D.C. Gaels. A group of players from Pittsburgh also made an appearance. The Pittsburghers didn’t have enough participants to field their own team, so those players were split up among the other squads and used as substitutes.

I was worked in as a substitute for Baltimore, and got some decent playing time. For some that might be a disappointment, but I was completely fine with that since I haven’t attended any Baltimore practices this year. Aside from playing and taking pictures, I also worked as a line judge for one game. More than anything, it was great to see some hurling action up close, and not just watching it on TV or the computer.

The games began about 11 a.m. and lasted until about 4:30 p.m., and at the conclusion of the event, one person summed up the experience as “a great day of quality hurling.”

Moreover, the assembled players vowed that the hurling instruction they offer their communities wasn’t just for Irish-born players or those with Irish ancestory. Instead, it’s a game for everyone — Irish and non-Irish. American hurlers are keenly aware that hurling must be a game for all comers, and doing so is the absolute key to its success.

This blog entry isn’t all I have to say about my experience at the Blitz. I learned a lot just by attending, and I have a lot more to talk about.

But for now, just take a look at some of the pictures I took of the day’s action. (And for even better photos, check out this article in the South Whitehall Patch.)

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