More catching tips for hurling

A while back, I posted a lengthy entry on my inability to catch the ball. I figured it would be a good time to revisit the idea with some more tips on making good catches in hurling.

TIME SAVER: If you become skilled at catching the sliotar in a game of hurling, you will literally gain time in the game. How so? Because you won't have to waste time trying to pick the ball up or stealing it from your opponent.

Before you continue on, be sure to read this entry too. While it focuses on goalkeeper skills, it also has a few tips on controlling the ball.


It’s important to remember that making good catches is truly a vital skill for the game. If you can instantly take control of a ball that comes near you, then your team is at an immediate advantage. You essentially gain time to execute your next play when you catch the ball, rather than scrambling to get control of it from the ground.

BEFORE NOT AFTER: When you are moving to catch the ball, you should always plan to get your body in front of the ball. Don’t extend your hand beyond your body to catch it because if you miss it, the ball just keeps going. If you put your body in front of the ball and you fail to catch it, the ball will likely hit you and immediately stop. That gives you another opportunity to take control of it.

UNDER NOT OVER: While it’s not always possible, try to catch the sliotar with an underhanded catch. This allows you to immediately slap it against your chest and protect it from other players. In fact, many players will position their arm flat against the chest, making their wrist a hinge that opens up for the catch and clamps closed when they ball arrives. Of course, you can’t always catch that way, but this is really good for catching hand passes and long balls where you’re the only reciever.

THE SPACE BETWEEN: When you’re not able to make an underhand catch, the best place to catch the sliotar is in the space where your fingers meet your palm. This provides just enough “give” to kill off the ball’s momentum. If you catch the ball straight into your palm, it tends to bounce back out unless you snap your fingers closed at the proper moment. If you try to catch the ball completely with your fingers, you put them at risk for injury if the ball slams into the fingertips by accident — which is something I have done many times.


While I was searching for art for this entry, I spotted one of my own drawings being used on an Irish GAA site to explain how to hold a hurley. Makes me proud that I, an American, am finally helping the Irish learn their own sport! Check it out here.

Also, if you want to buy that sliotar-in-hand clock-statue, go here.

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Afraid of the ball — Tips for good hurling catches

One of my biggest problems on the pitch last year was catching the ball.

What’s strange is that I started out in early April doing just fine. I caught nearly every sliotar that I was able to reach.

COACHING TIPS: Click on the image for a PDF coaching guide on perfecting the overhead catch. The two-page guide also includes guidelines for several ball-catching drills.

But along the way, something happened. Balls zipped past. Balls landed with a whump at my feet. Balls smashed into my catching hand and fumbled out of my grip.

It seemed that somewhere along the way, I became afraid of the ball.

And yes, I really do mean it.

To understand my dilemma, first you need to understand what hurling players are up against.

  • In hurling you have to catch the baseball-like sliotar with your bare hand.
  • There’s no padded and webbed glove, like the one used in baseball, to help you snatch it out of the air.
  • Just like baseball, you have to catch it with your non-dominant hand, which is usually less coordinated than your writing hand. (Your writing hand, by the way, is busy doing its own thing — holding the hurley, so it can’t even offer you an assist.)
  • Further, you’re often jumping or running when you try to make your catch.
  • You’re often catching a ball that’s been propelled by a hurley. That means the sliotar is coming at you fast and hard.
  • And finally, you’re often under direct pressure from an opposing player who wants the ball just as much as you do.  This isn’t baseball, where you’re just standing around waiting for something to happen.

So, yeah, there’s a lot that goes into catching the sliotar during a game. It’s easy to mess up, too. The problem then is it is an absolutely vital skill to the game. If you can’t catch the ball very well, then you’re not going to contribute much to your team’s effort.

As I said, I did pretty well with this early on, but that all changed after I made a couple of bad catches — ones that left me sore and injured

Most of my bad catches occurred when the ball came whizzing into the cup of my hand and immediately bounced back out. The problem with these “catches” were that they left my hand stinging for hours.

Clearly, I wasn’t doing something right. Not only was I not catching them, but they hurt me too.

The worst of my bad catches happened at an impromptu “puck around” I had with a footballer who also had a hurley. He fired a line-drive at me and I moved to catch it. I missed catching the ball by a hair, and instead of catching it, it jammed straight into the tip of my thumb.

The pain was sharp, immediate and long-lasting. Not only did it hurt for a long time, it left my thumb with limited mobility for the rest of the season.

It also made me very leery of catching the ball from then on.

Now that the season has begun again, I have to back away from my fears and go after that sliotar again.

With that in mind, it’s time to review the guidelines for good catches.

First off, check out this video:

That’s a good basic guide to catching those high-flying balls that are so common in the game.

Some additional hints and reminders:

  • Practice catching the ball with Wall Ball drills, where you hit the sliotar against a wall and immediately catch it. 
  • Run to the ball after its been hit. Get your body in motion so it’s easier to get to the ball’s landing zone.
  • Don’t try to grab the ball out of the air. Let it hit your relaxed hand and let its momentum curl your fingers around it.
  • Move your entire body in the way of the ball. Don’t reach out for it. Get in its way.
  • If you lose the ball in the sky, just stick with your opponent. He may still see it, and that gives you a chance to grab it or block it.
  • Use your hurley to block your opponent from swatting the ball from your grasp.
  • Choke up on your hurley to better control a missed catch. If it bobbles past your hand, it may hit your hurley and you either get another chance to catch it, or you can pin it against your hurley.

For a coaching guide on specifically teaching the overhead catch, check out the Gaelic Athletic Association’s tip sheet and website by going here.

Other “skills” entries that might be of interest:

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