CROKE PARK: The stadium hosting the the 2012 All-Ireland Hurling Championship quickly filled up toward the end of the minors match as the crowd geared up for the seniors battle between Galway and Kilkenny.
As the Minors Hurling match was closing down, the stands at Croke Park began to fill up as all of Ireland settled in to watch the 2012 All-Ireland Seniors match between Galway and Kilkenny.
In the minors match, the stadium in Dublin had only filled to about one-quarter of its capacity. But by the end of that game, which leads directly into the seniors match, the crowd had blossomed to more than 80,000.
As the seniors game broadcasters and analysts hit the field, the crowd proved too noisy for them to even hear well, as they started to clutch their headphones to hear one another.
BIG CROWD: Just before the game started, the hurling teams marched into Croke Park stadium and broadcasters announced that more than 80,000 spectators had shown up for the game.
Before the start of the game, their was a short pregame show featuring a procession of the two senior teams, flags from every county in Ireland. The most amusing sight was two balloons that carried massive flags for County Galway and County Kilkenny.
BALLOONS: The pregame show featured an advertisement for a tourism event in Ireland set for next year. “The Gathering” is meant to draw in a Irish diaspora from around the world. Two floating balloons featured the flags of Kilkenny and Galway.
After theatrics with the flags, the hurling teams assembled on the field for a minute of silence — but I didn’t hear for what. After that rather noisy minute, the game commenced.
QUIET PLEASE: The massive crowd on hand could be seen during the moment of silence before Sunday’s All-Ireland Hurling final between Galway and Kilkenny.
As the glow of the 2012 London Olympics fades, some hurling fans might be wondering “Will there ever be a game of hurling at the Olympics?”
While the answer for the immediate future is “no,” the sport could make it to the Olympics some time in the decades to come.
THE MAIN REASON
First off, one has to understand the main reason why hurling isn’t in the Olympics: Not enough countries play significant amounts of hurling to justify an Olympic tournament.
GOLD MEDALS: Hurling is a sport that was created in Ireland, and with a lot of work it could develop into an international game. Once it hits that level, it could be considered for a future Olympics.
If it happened today, or even 10 years from now, any international contest in hurling would be dominated by a team from Ireland, the sport’s home country. Irish hurlers would, quite simply, devastate their opponents from other countries. It would be like having kindergarteners playing high-schoolers in a game of basketball.
Take a look at American Football. It suffers the same problem: lack of competitiveness. A U.S. “dream team” would completely destroy any assembled by another country.
So right off the bat is there’s no hurling in the Olympics because there’s no quality competition available to Ireland.
And that is the simple answer — the simple answer to the simplest version of the “Hurling at the Olympics” question. No one can touch the Irish at hurling, so there’s no point in creating an international competition.
But that leads us to a better question: “How could hurling become an Olympic sport?” That is, what is needed to insure quality games of hurling on an Olympic stage?
First off, let’s tack off a few things that the hurling community is doing right.
1. Governing body: According to the basic IOC rules, every Olympic sport must have an international governing body.
Citing American football again, you’ll note that there’s no such organization for American Football. Well, in truth, there is such an organization — the International Federation of American Football — based in France, but it offers no oversight to the way Americans (or even Canadians) play the game. Can you imagine some organization in France handing down sanctions against the the San Diego Chargers, for example? Or an organization telling the Canada’s CFL to remove the two-point conversion from the rulebooks? No, that just isn’t going to happen.
Unlike the NFL and the CFL, the world of hurling is actually dominated by one organization, Ireland’s Gaelic Athletic Association. While the GAA is essentially an Irish organization, it has a world-wide reach and has made decent efforts to push the sport past its national boundaries, so it can technically qualify as an international governing body. 2. Gender equality: Olympic sports also need to include both genders, and for that hurling gets bonus points again. The GAA actively promotes camogie, the game of hurling for women. Just like many sports, there aren’t a lot of camogie players out there, but there’s certainly enough to build up to an Olympic level.
With those minor hurdles cleared, we come back to the getting into the Olympics in general.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
It appears that there’s a hard way and an easy way for a sport to graduate to become an Olympic sport. Let’s look at both:
The Hard Way: The GAA would spend roughly the next 20 to 30 years aggressively building and promoting the sport of hurling in additional countries. It would certainly help its case if it managed to push the game to every continent and through multiple cultures.
In Europe and North America, it has a decent enough showing. Over in Australia and New Zealand, they wouldn’t have too hard of a time to build up some organizations either. Just a little more investment of time and money in those zones would create some real competitors.
Believe it or not, Argentina once had a thriving hurling scene, but that was dampened by World Wars I and II. Still, reviving it might be possible. Once it had a foothold again in South America, it could easily spread through the rest of the continent.
Asia and Africa would obviously prove to be the most difficult sells. China certainly has the money and people power to give a hurling team a try. Dangle the possibility of more Olympic gold in front of them and they would very likely take on the challenge. The GAA just needs to supply some coaching. The Japanese might appreciate the game too, given their interest in baseball. The starting point in Africa would logically be South Africa, but beyond that it might not gain much more ground. (Although check the video below!)
Over every continent, the GAA should “sell” the game to countries that are already fielding strong teams in sports such as field hockey, lacrosse and baseball. These sports share many of the same skills as hurling, and countries that show strength in those could pick up hurling in just a few generations of players.
Once the GAA gets those foreign clubs started and sufficiently competitive, it’s just a petition away from playing for Olympic gold.
But like I said, that would take forever. Decades of work. Hundreds of millions in investments.
The Easy Way: There’s another route to the Olympics for sports such as hurling. All that needs to happen is for Ireland to become a Summer Games host country and run hurling as a demonstration sport.
You see in the past, the IOC allowed host countries to include non-medaling sports on the Olympic schedule. The problem is that demonstration sports have been gone since 1992, but that could easily change in the next few years with simple ruling from the IOC. (And it’s an option that many sporting organizations and fans want back.)
The key to “The Easy Way,” of course, is earning the right to host the Olympics — a massive undertaking in its own right that takes — you guessed it — decades of work. Hundreds of millions in investments.
So yes, hurling could be an Olympic sport … given lots of time, effort and money.
Blaming the rough economy in Ireland, some fans decided tickets for this year's All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship in Dublin's Croke Park were left unsold. For more details, click the image.
It’s been a while since I updated, and you’ll have to forgive me for that. I’ve been wrapped up in personal projects and then my area of Pennsylvania had a few tropical storms roll in, which resulted in localized flooding.
The damage to my home was more of an inconvenience than anything, but enough to keep my mind off of hurling and all the excitement that happened in this great sport.
Heck, I haven’t even picked up my hurley in weeks. And while I’ve been putting in my hurling effort on the back-burner, the rest of North America has been picking up the slack
In early September, hurling and gaelic football teams from around the United States and Canada converged on San Francisco for the North American GAA Finals.
Here’s a look at some of that West Coast action, which included at least a few East Coast teams:
The games, by the way, didn’t include clubs from the New York GAA, because that organization is considered a separate “county.” That’s probably good since that area, which also serves some of New Jersey, is teeming with Irish-born talent that would likely crush the up-and-coming North American squads.
You can also read the experience of one of the GAA officials at the game here.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the 2012 North American finals will be held right here in Pennsylvania, with the Philadelphia teams serving as hosts.
A few weeks later over in Ireland, the big leagues held their finals. The 2011 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship was a rematch from last year as the Kilkenny team took on the lads from Tipperary. Don’t worry, I won’t reveal the end — just in case you missed it.
Here’s part one of an edited telecast of the game:
Since hurling clubs here in America are so small, so decidedly tucked away in the “niche” sport category, a lot of them have trouble paying field-use fees, gathering equipment and attracting the attention of non-players. Basically, they’re always short on cash.
CROSS-COUNTRY: Tipperary’s Brendan Cummins lets fly during the 2009 Martin Donnelly Poc Fada on Annverna Mountain. (INPHO via HoganStand.com)
Most try to scrape together money by hosting pub-crawls, soliciting donations at Irish heritage festivals or tapping sponsors, which are almost always Irish pubs.
Almost all of these efforts tie the game and its Irish roots with throwing back a few beers. For most, this is absolutely fine. For others, it’s an unfortunate reinforcement of the Irish stereotype — that of a pub-loving, drunken rabble-rouser.
If hurling wants to succeed in Puritanical America, it needs to rise above that. It doesn’t need to rise too far, mind you, because there’s plenty of beer-loving sports fans here in the U.S., but a even little separation from that stereotype is sure to help.
So here’s what I would suggest for the next hurling club fundraiser: A poc fada.
Now bear with me, because I bet a lot of American-born hurling players don’t know what a “poc fada” is.
Basically, it’s the hurling version of a homerun derby for baseball players — with a golfing twist.
In a poc fada, the players assemble at a given point and hit their sliotars as far as they possibly can. Then they advance ahead to where the ball landed and hit it again. The players are working their way to an end point about 3 miles away. They keep hitting their ball until they get there, and the player with the fewest strikes wins.
Players in the All-Ireland Poc Fada Championship can do this in 50 hits or so. Americans might be lucky if they can get it 80. Here’s a website dedicated to that event, which includes rules, results, photos and videos.
Still, this is the kind of activity even non-hurling players can get into — heck, they would probably even pay a fundraising fee to play. Consider this:
The skill set is minimal, so practically anyone can do it. (Maybe not well, but they can do it.)
Smashing the ball as far and as hard as you can is always the most satisfying part of the game. A poc fada boils hurling down to just that.
The rules are simple — hit it as few times as you can to reach the goal.
It provides a basic introduction to several key aspects of hurling — long and big hits, the ball and the hurley.
It sparks an interest in hurling.
People of all ages and athletic levels can participate.
It’s a day out in the country that isn’t a golf game. This is something different.
Here’s how you can set up a poc fada fundraiser:
THE LAND: Contact a local farmer, park administrator or Joe Average land owner and talk to them about the poc fada. Ideally, you’ll want to use a 50-yard-wide strip of land that goes over hill and dale and is relatively clear. It only needs to be mostly clear, because obstacles make a poc fada more fun. For farmland, the basic grazing pasture (and not cropland) is ideal.
RUN-THROUGH: Get some team-members to do a run through of the proposed course and figure out the average number of hits, the par, it takes to complete (this will be important). You should also look for potential hazards on the course — not golf-style hazards, but injury-inducing hazards — and clear them out.
THE DATE: There’s two schools of thought on this. Either have it on or near St. Patrick’s Day — to catch people when their Irish pride is the highest — or as far away from St. Patrick’s Day as possible — to intrigue non-Irish folks about gaelic sports.
FINANCES (FOR SKILLED PLAYERS): Your hurling club members (and anyone who’s good with a hurley) should take pledges from their friends, family and coworkers. Basically, they pledge to pay you more for the least number of hits by following this formula: (50 + the pre-determined course average) – (the player’s score) = The Pledge multipler. Example: Someone completes the 65-par poc fada in 52 hits (50+65-52=63), his supporters then pay him 63 times their pledge amount. So someone who pledged 25-cents now owes $15.75.
FINANCES (FOR THE PUBLIC): If the public wants to play, have them pay to play. I’d recommend that they pay $20 or so, include some refreshments and a giveaway item, such as a shirt or mug.
RECRUIT: Once you’ve got the fundraising rules down, the par established and pledge forms created, you need to go out and recruit some additional participants. First off, hit up local business people with Irish names, news broadcasters, celebrities, politicians, retired sports stars and maybe even current players from the local pro baseball team — this will help you get some publicity. After that, start circulating forms at local pubs (yeah, why not?), Roman Catholic churches and schools (lots of Irish folks there) and anywhere else you can think of to generate some interest. At the same time, hurling club members should be seeking out pledges of their own.
ADVERTISE: Once you’ve got a date and a location, start advertising the event. You don’t necessarily have to spend money to do so, just send a press releases to your local paper, television and radio stations. Print up some fliers and hand them out around town. Be sure to explain what a poc fada is, too.
LEGAL: If you play the poc fada on private land, you need to get some sort of waiver that exempts the landowner from liability for injury. This is absolutely necessary. Whether or not it’s on private land, you should also have a waiver that exempts the club from liability for injury. There are two likely injuries in a poc fada, someone gets hit by a sliotar or someone trips and hurts themself on rough terrain.
TRAIN: At the start of the poc fada, you should host a training session for all newcomers on how to hold the hurley, how to hit the ball and give them a few practice swings. If it’s apparent that novices aren’t going to hit as well as your regular members, you might want to consider a shorter course for them.
HELP: Don’t let all your hurling club members play in the poc fada, have a few work as ball-spotters (very important!), ombudsmen and on-the-course coaches. Their goal is to make sure the non-members have fun, learn the basics of a poc fada/hurling and corral people who wander off the course. They should also keep a close watch on the equipment to make sure no one walks off with a hurl or sliotar.
PLAY: When the big day arrives, get out there early. Make sure the weather will be good, because if it’s not it will be miserable. Have someone in charge of all the side details — parking, refreshments, restrooms, form organizing, equipment quartermaster, fee collection, cleanup, boundary marking and so on. Once all that’s all good, get playing, have a good time and be proud you’ve further secured your club’s future.
Want to see an actual poc fada? Here’s a you tube video where they blast hits along a country road in Ireland.
HAIL TO THE CHIEF: U.S. President Barack Obama, left, reacts after he was presented with a hurley stick from Irish Prime Minister and Taoiseach Enda Kenny while in Farmleigh, Dublin Monday May 23, 2011. Obama said Monday that the U.S. and Ireland share a "blood link" that extends beyond strategic interests or foreign policy into the hearts of the millions of Irish Americans who still see a homeland here.(AP Photo, Pool)
I have to admit, I’m writing this post with the exclusive hope that someone is going to ask Google or Yahoo! about the strange stick U.S. President Barack Obama was holding in his hand during his stop in Ireland today.
He’s holding a hurley, the stick used in the Irish national sport of hurling, and it is truly a great game. I want every American to know about it. I want every American to want to play it.
Americans who know of the sport say hurling is what would happen if you mixed lacrosse, baseball and rugby. The truth is, the game is older than every one of those sports, and some even suspect that lacrosse is a bastardized version of the game.
This very blog, Hurley to Rise, is dedicated to raise the prominence of the sport in the U.S. If you found this blog in a web search, I guess it’s starting to work.
One of the best introductory tools I have ever seen to the sport is this video. Watch it and be amazed:
I will admit that most Americans have never heard of the sport, but it shouldn’t be that way. There actually are lots of hurling players here in the U.S. Just look at the “U.S. Clubs” list I have here, or check with the owner of your local Irish bar.
To learn more about the sport, keep checking out this very blog. I’ve been working the last two years to develop my skills in the game. It’s a hard game to learn, but at the same time it’s glorious.
You won’t believe me, but I can say with all my heart that it beats football. It beats basketball. It beats hockey and any other sport you can name. All you have to do is give it a try and see for yourself.
In fact, with crippling gasoline prices, that’s just what I would like to do for my town. I’m located in the South Central region of Pennsylvania, and I would happily travel to York, Hanover, Harrisburg, Lebanon, Carlisle or Lancaster to begin assembling a local chapter of the Gaelic Athletic Association, the governing body of hurling and its sister sport gaelic football. Right now, I’m a member of the Baltimore GAA, but I’d jump at a chance to start a new division of the GAA here in Pennsylvania.
Just let me know if you’re interested, and I will welcome you a whole new world because a world with hurling is indeed a better place.
And who knows, you might just join an O’Bama on the pitch soon.