Baseball versus lacrosse. Boxing versus wrestling. Football versus rugby. Sports fanatics have always argued that their sport is superior. To those people I say, “Argue no more”, as there is only one true sport worthy of this title. That sport is hurling. Never heard of it? That’s probably because the ancient Gaelic sport has yet to make a splash in the United States. But don’t let its funny name or unfamiliarity scare you away. Once understood, hurling is the most exciting game in the world.
First let’s go over the basics. Hurling is played on a field similar to rugby and enlists the use of wooden clubs, called hurleys, and baseball-like balls, called sliotars. It is often referred to as the fastest game on grass because the sliotar is always moving at a high pace and is rarely in the same person’s hand for more than a few seconds. “Why?” you may ask. Because there are about a gazillion different ways to pass it. Well, four to be exact. The first two come from hitting the sliotar with the hurley. These methods are used for distance passing. Players can hit it from the ground or from the air. When a shorter pass is needed, players have the option of slapping the ball with their hand or kicking it. Their teammates can receive the pass by either catching it with their bare hands or scooping it up with their hurleys. If a player wants to carry the sliotar, they can hold it in their hands for four steps. After that, they must balance it on their hurleys. They can also handle the sliotar on the floor like in hockey. To score, player must hit or kick the sliotar into the goal for three points, or hit, kick, or slap the sliotar over the crossbar for one point.
Now that you know the rules, let me break down why hurling is uncontestedly the greatest sport on earth:
Diversity of Skill
Let me start with the most broad reason for my claim: hurling applies to every sports fan. You like running? It’s got running. You like contact. It’s one of the most dangerous field sports out there. You like goal scoring? There’s not one, but two different ways to score. The list goes on and on. There is something for everyone. To prove this, let’s look at how hurling incorporates aspects of each of the world’s most popular sports.
Soccer: Players can kick the sliotar to pass and score one point. If a player gets fouled in the act of scoring, they get a penalty shot similar to that in soccer.
Baseball: Players toss the sliotar up to themselves and swing their hurley like a baseball bat to pass and score. Sliotars also resemble baseballs.
Football: While hard hits are illegal, they are very common and result in serious injuries like in football.
Rugby: The hurling field most closely resembles a rugby field and has goal posts that the sliotar can travel through from anywhere on the field to score points.
Field Hockey/Hockey: Players can handle the sliotar on the ground with their hurleys. They can also balance it on their hurleys, just as field hockey players can air dribble the ball on their sticks. Fights are also fairly common in both hurling and ice hockey.
Lacrosse: Players can pass the sliotar far distances by using their sticks. Hitting the sliotar with the hurley is similar to passing a lacrosse ball from one side of the field to the other.
Basketball: Both of these sports have multiple methods of scoring, which most other field sports lack. Basketball has two pointers, three pointers, and one point free throws. Hurling has one pointers that go above the crossbar and three point goals that go into the net.
The Toughest Sport
There has been a long standing debate on what the biggest tough-guy sport is. I’d say rugby beats football because of the lack of pads. And MMA is probably tougher than boxing and wrestling because there are less restrictions. But what about hurling? The sport is a running boxing match with weapons and almost no protection. While it’s illegal to hit someone directly with the hurley, the game often results in serious face and eye injuries. The only form of protection against the wooden clubs and cork balls is a soft helmet. So when the sliotar comes flying in at speeds nearing 100 miles per hour, the players have no choice but to catch it with their bare hand. Or I guess they could end up like this guy. Either way, the game is pretty brutal. And for all the hockey fans reading this thinking about all those rough-and-tough NHL enforcers, I have news for you. Hurling has fighting too, just without all the padding.
The Most Unpredictable Sport
If violence doesn’t interest you, fear not. There’s plenty of hurling for you, too. And it will keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time. As I previously mentioned, the game is insanely fast. That means the momentum could switch from team to team within the blink of an eye. In baseball, you have to wait for three outs to see your team hit. In football, you have to wait for all the play calls, timeouts and ball spotting. In hurling, though, the ball can change hands as many times as possible, wherever and whenever. The players always have to be alert. In addition, there is no slow buildup to scoring. A team could methodically bring the ball up the field or just throw it up and smack a long goal. And in terms of actual scoring there are two options, as the goal is split into two sections. If the ball goes over the crossbar, it’s just one point, but if it goes under and into the net past the goalie, it’s three points. This means each player has to be alert 24/7. And so do the fans. Give any player a little room and they may surprise you with a long point.
The Most Exhausting Game
Soccer is known for being a tiring game. Most players have to play all 90 minutes as FIFA only allows for three substitutions per game. Well hurling is very similar. There can be up to five substitutions in the Irish sport and games are 20 minutes less than those of soccer, but the body takes much more of a beating during hurling. There is no playing possession in hurling as there is in soccer. There is almost never a point in the game where a team passes the sliotar back and forth at a relaxed pace to wear out the clock. That’s because it doesn’t take 30 minutes of back and forths to score a single goal in hurling. There could be ten points within a few minutes. Therefore each position is running full speed the whole match. The game is like a cross country race except there are big dudes running at you with muscular shoulders and wooden clubs.
The Most Egalitarian Game
All this stuff is great, but you may be thinking this game is just for men who enjoy its violence and blood. Nope. There is actually a separate game called camogie, which is just the female version of hurling. It’s not drastically different from its male counterpart, like fast-pitch softball is in America. In fact, It’s almost identical to hurling, aside from a few minor technicalities to make it slightly less physical. It’s also wildly popular. A major problem with women’s sports in the United States is that people do not come out to support them. The All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship, however, boasted a crowd of 33,154 in 2007. I am willing to bet that more people would show up to female sporting events in America if they featured more high energy games like camogie.
I’ve said all I can say on the subjects of hurling and camogie. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I would truly like to see a strong argument for why any one sport is superior to these two. They have yet to catch fire in the United States, but that doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. Just look at soccer. Anyways, I hope I have opened your eyes up to the beautiful world of hurling. Now go grab your sliotars and hurleys and get practicing.