Another look at hurling

Here’s a great video that really shows the skill and excitement of the game of hurling.

Now I know what you’re saying good reader: “Dude, it’s been months since your last post! Why now?”

Well, the truth of the matter is that I’ve been horrifically busy at home and work for nearly this entire year. Things are finally easing off, so I hope that I can finally return to doing regular posts here at Hurley to Rise.

So don’t give up on me just yet. I just needed a little time off, and that time is now over.

May my hurley rise again.

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The plan for hurling in North America

Early this spring, the Gaelic Athletic Association’s North American County Board released a report that maps out its plans to continue its expansion into America and Canada.

The GAA, of course, is the governing body for hurling, camogie, gaelic football and a few other sports that were created in Ireland. Those sports are actively supported by the organization around the world. The North American County Board is the division of the GAA that covers all of the U.S. and Canada, with the exception of the New York City area, which has its own division of the GAA.

PLAY BALL: The North American County Board of the GAA released their strategic plan early in the spring of 2012.

It’s no secret that hurling and gaelic football have exploded in popularity in the U.S. And by “exploded”, I don’t mean that they’re booting football, soccer and baseball off the field, but instead, I’m saying the gaelic sports are gaining major footholds across the nation. At this point, most major cities have some sort of GAA club in operation and those that don’t have a club within 100 miles or so.

That’s certainly a positive, and the NACB’s strategic plan is the organization’s effort to continue to foster that growth.

Overall, I wasn’t entirely thrilled with what I read. There are a few good ideas here and there, but much of the plan is ridiculously vague. Other parts read as lip service to keep dues-paying members from complaining too loud. And other parts made me think “I believe it when I see it.”

While it starts off with a dynamic, star-spangled cover and snapshot of the NACB affliates, the 17-page report then spends 9 pages on comments from key board members, most of whom waste space saying how much potential the North American clubs have, why it’s important to read the report, offering “thank yous” and explaining about how excited they are for the plan.

Yeah, that’s great and all, but really, couldn’t you all have combined this into one cohesive statement? Bureaucracy at it’s finest, I guess.

The basics of the plan: Once you get past all those needless page fillers, readers get into the heart of the plan wherein the fundamental plan is laid out.

According to the report, the NACB wants to allow players in North America to play meaningful and safe gaelic games. To do so, the board has opted to focus on:

  • Coach and referee education
  • Schools of excellence and development of squad programs,
  • Providing coaching backup and assistance to our clubs, schools and colleges
  • Roll out and delivery of training, camps and awards for youth development programs.

Admirable goals, indeed. Coach and referees are needed to build up the game. Player training is needed for adults just entering into the sports. Supplemental material is always a plus for coaches teaching a game they only just learned and helpful to clubs struggling to survive. Pushing the games to youth players certainly gives strength to the games in the future.

The board, for example, wants to offer special courses to school teachers interested in gaelic sports. These classes could then be used to introduce gaelic games to a whole new generation.

More info please: Other ideas are bandied about: Getting games from Ireland on American TV,  assisting new clubs, offering starter packs to new clubs and so on.

All good ideas, but also unfortunately murky.

What kind of TV broadcast is the NACB aiming for? Full games? An edited wrap-up of all the action? Will the broadcasters bother to explain the rules to fresh American eyes?

And the NACB wants to assist new clubs. How will it do that? Send out a few temporary coaches? Give the clubs some space on the NACB website? Pat them on the back and thank them for their dues?

How about this ” starter pack”? Is it a package of 20 hurleys and 100 sliotars? A notebook with the rules inside? Some cones to mark the lines of play? A media kit to help advertise a new club? It’s hard to commit to starting a club when you aren’t offered any substantial support.

How about this? The report says “Increase % of American Players playing hurling/camogie.” Wow. Great goal. Try something like “Add 100 registered hurling/camogie players every six months.” That’s precise. That’s a real goal.

Details, folks! We want details, not just a vague statement.

Marketing: As I said, the report does have some intriguing points.

One says “Establish a National Sponsorship/Marketing Committee.” Now that sounds great, but I wonder what they are referring to exactly? Having Guiness USA sponsor the NACB? I hope not, because I think this is a great goal. The question is how big of a national sponsor can the NACB get? And what company out there wants to aggressively market to Irish immigrants and those of Irish ancestry? (Leave some ideas in the comments, folks!)

The plan also suggests GAA establish a brand in the USA. That’s very interesting. If I read it right, the board wants to establish a name for itself and there’s a lot they can do with this. There’s lots of small-time sports out there with national organizations — from bull riders to skateboarders — and its high time that Irish sports develop their own.

Missing: I think the report also neglected a few areas.

  • Every club in North America struggles to raise funds.
  • Every player struggles to find equipment.

Addressing these two key problems are vitally important to the growth of hurling and other gaelic sports in America.

Regarding fundraisers, the NACB should develop a few templates for for clubs to follow. Basically some guides that say “Here’s how to do a Poc Fada,”   “Here’s how to do a bar patronage” and “Here are some ideas on developing non-Irish financial support.”

Regarding equipment, the NACB should consider setting up a brick-and-mortar store, online presence and/or warehouse for equipment and supplies related to the game. Getting equipment is a big pain in the butt here. After every practice, most teams spend several minutes hunting for lost balls because they cost so much! The NACB should set up a warehouse for supplies to keep those supplies fresh and push the cost of imports from Ireland down.

Positives: Don’t think this review is entirely off-putting, either. It’s clear the NACB plans to address issues almost impossible to do on a club level, such as insurance issues and developing better organization within the board.

It also addresses another issue in that gaelic-friendly facilities are hard to find. The report suggests developing long-term partnerships with municipalities, schools and other sports to use their facilities. This is good planning, but the GAA needs to go one step further.

The board should develop generic landscaping and engineering plans that show how to build a multi-use field that successfully incorporates gaelic game field designs with other American sports’ designs. You know, exactly how baseball diamonds are mapped out in the corner of a many football gridirons. The NACB needs to add hurling fields into that mix.

And that is the key to bringing hurling (and the other gaelic sports) into the limelight here in the U.S: First you adapt to American thinking and then you change it from the inside out.

The NACB has that plan, it just needs to flesh out the details.




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Why is Obama holding a hurley stick?

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.

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Help him because he helped us

STEPHEN QUIGLEY AND FAMILY: Quigley, the operator of American Hurling Co., was seriously injured in a recent game at the Chicago championships.

Modern hurling in America has been, in a large part, greatly assisted by one man:
Stephen Quigley.

Years ago, Quigley started the American Hurling Co. which began producing hurling sticks for American players. While his hurleys cost about the same as many Irish-made hurleys, his company was well known for its amazing customer service and speedy delivery. (And when you break your only hurley in practice and need one in a few days for a game, speedy deliveries are important.)
I personally have dealt with Stephen and American Hurling Co. a number of times, most recently this summer as I quested for a

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