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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On St. Patrick’s Day, you should be hurling

The most Irish of all Irish holidays is upon us, and that means hurling clubs around the U.S. are out in force in their local media. Their job? Promote the sport. Recruit more players. And befuddle the broadcasters.

Most Americans have three reactions when they hear about hurling. First and foremost, they make a joke about the name of the sport and make sure their hurler isn’t actually talking about curling, the shuffleboard-on-ice game. Next they make a joke about drunken Irishmen swinging sticks at each other. And lastly, and most importantly, they acknowledge that it seems to be a pretty awesome game.

With that in mind, here’s a round up some of the hurling promotions that have hit the U.S. airwaves recently.

Members of the Baltimore GAA talked with the 98 Rock morning show.

The Baltimore GAA talked to the morning DJs of the city’s 98 Rock station.

Listen to the broadcast here: http://kiwi6.com/file/38638mcpe0

Meanwhile, members of the Indy hurling club talked with Indianapolis’s Nuvo magazine in this article.

Likewise, the Orlando Hurling Club was featured here in Orlando Weekly.

The Eugene Trappers from Oregon are touting a great video they produced last year. http://youtu.be/GewZfK4v5rk

And, of course, there’s a bazillion clubs participating in St. Patrick’s Day parades from Coast to Coast. Many others go another route: They’ve scheduled a practice or an exhibition game.

But the best publicity ever? That’s from the Allentown Hibernians’ hurling club. They’re getting into the action with coasters that will be tucked under everyone’s St. Patty’s Day glass of Guinness.

The Allentown hurling club, found at pahurling.com, is promoting their club with coasters for local saloons.

Good thinking, guys!

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Get the hurling season started

With the approach of spring, hurling clubs around the nation are starting to get their teams ready for the new season. The warm weather that spring brings is a natural time to pick the sport back up again, but it’s also an important recruiting time thanks to the St. Patrick’s day holiday, which is a little less than a month away.

Over in California, college teams have already engaged in their first games of the season, as seen here in a video from hurling fanatic and YouTube content creator Eamonn Gormley (EamonnCA1). In the action, Cal State takes on the Stanford team. http://youtu.be/oUdrBlZ_og4

What’s great about this video is that EamonnCA1 doesn’t just give us the action, but he takes time to talk with some of the spectators about the sport.

Over here on the East Coast, a rally is going out to players in the Baltimore area is planning its Gaelic Sports Clinic on March 25, where newcomers can learn a little more about Hurling and Gaelic Football.

Teams up north, like the Fox River Hurling Club in Wisconsin, are still battling the cold their own way: By playing hurling indoors. Still, it won’t be long until they hit the pitch for some outdoor games. (Of course, it’s worth noting that the Baltimore club is currently playing indoor hurling too! Check out the video.)

The Allentown, Pa., team, like many other clubs, has its announcement up on its website: It’s looking for players and ready to train you. If you’re interested in the sport, now’s the time to get involved, and any local club can help you by loaning you equipment to mess around with before your first practice.

The Orlando Hurling Club, like many others, is planning on marching in its local St. Partick’s Parade. Hurling participants in that parade, set for March 4, are to assemble and depart from Fiddler’s Green Pub 12:30pm.

  • What’s your club doing to drum up new players and kick start spring training? Let me know in the comments!
  • Looking for a team near you? Check out my list of U.S. Clubs!
  • Do you participate in a club that’s not listed? E-mail me the information!
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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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A hurling season in peril

Although spring is just around the corner, my opportunities to participate in hurling seems to be dwindling.

The biggest threat to my game is a simple matter of economics. Here in the United States, gasoline prices are expected to go up through the spring and summer. Economists, or whoever it is that does this, are saying prices could hit $5 a gallon at some point this year.

THE GOLD & BLACK: Baltimore GAA Club founders Lucy and Tadgh Prendeville are featured in the March 2011 issue of Baltimore Magazine. Click on this image to activate a PDF and read that article.

THE GOLD & BLACK: Baltimore GAA Club founders Lucy and Tadgh Prendeville are featured in the March 2011 issue of Baltimore Magazine. Click on this image to activate a PDF and read that article.

I’m like a lot of people who participate in niche sports: To play or train, I have to travel. If the Baltimore Bohemians schedule continues this year like it did last year, then there will be practice once a week, and a game twice a month.

My round trip to Baltimore and back is 130 miles. My vehicle, which is admittedly a gas guzzler, gets a dreadful 15 miles to the gallon. That means at the low end, it costs $35 per session to train. On the high end, it would be about $44 for each session. That’s $210 bucks a month just to learn the game at four practices and play it twice. That adds up fast over the spring and summer when you’re on a tight budget, and something I can’t really afford, especially when you look at “Reason No. 2″ for my troubled season.

Reason No. 2 that my season is in jeopardy is actually a blessing. My lovely wife, Laura, is pregnant with our second child. The new kid is due on April 16, just about when the hurling season would begin. If everything works out fine, the wife will be taking off a significant amount of baby-bonding time. This of course means we will be running the Simcoe household on a tight budget, and traveling for hurling is almost assuredly the first to go. Along with that, my actual time to participate in the game will be cut down — Babies need time with their dads, too.

There’s also a third reason why hurling might be out of the question this year. Last year, the men’s hurling team at Baltimore mostly  limped along. The number of players showing up for each week’s practice hovered around five, and was never more than 10.  That kind of attendance is never good for building a quality team.

Now word is that last year’s coach won’t be coaching this year, so that’s another blow to our effort because at some point, you kind of have to ask, “Why bother?”

And don’t for a second think that the Baltimore GAA isn’t a good organization. They have great male and female gaelic football teams. They also are getting great turnouts for their camogie team, and I would happily train with them if that was my only option. (Camogie, by the way, is the women’s version of hurling.)

WHAT A PAIN: Maybe I have a bone spur on my foot as shown here, which can happen if you have over-tight calf muscles or suddenly increase your physical activity. I'm probably guilty of both of those since I have big calves and was a lazy bum prior to taking up hurling.

To add more pooper to my hurling party, I’m nursing a nagging injury that persisted through all of last year. My left achilles tendon just doesn’t like it when I run around on the field. While playing, it feels fine, but after a night’s rest it goes from “barely fine” to a full-blown limp that lasts two or three days. The limp is actually so bad that walking down stairs is difficult.

After talking to my doctor about the problem, she referred me to a local foot-and-ankle specialist. I have been a bad patient and haven’t sought out the treatment yet, deciding to try to give it time to heal up. Months later, the agitation remains, especially when running. You want me to ride an elliptical trainer for a half-hour? Sure, no pain at all, but running for 30 seconds brings on the pain twelve hours later.

Of course, all is not lost in my effort to learn and understand this great game. I love practicing the skills. I’d readily join a more-local team (Harrisburg, York or Lancaster hurlers out there?). I’m still interested in the game, and will eagerly play whenever and wherever I can.

But this year, it just might not happen when I look at all the factors in play.

 

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