A Feature on Hurling by Frank O’Shea
Team sport has changed in Ireland in the last ten years. Right now, the two favourite spectator sports are rugby and hurling. Rugby has the advantage that the team that plays under the name Ireland is selected from the geographical entity called Ireland rather than one of the political entities which requires extra words to describe the place involved. Right now, Ireland is officially number two in the world of rugby, surpassed only by the All Blacks, but there is also the success of the provincial sides, particularly Munster and Leinster.
Then there is hurling. Seeming to be dying on its feet at the turn of the millennium, things have happened that have changed the game. There is the new technology that has made the ball less affected by rain and wind. And the bas of the hurley has increased in size with the result that there is less ground hurling than before when the cry of ‘Pull on it, boy. Pull hard’ was the centrepiece of coaching. The overall result is a game that is fast, end-to-end, a test of skill more than brawn, where body contact seems to play a lesser role. The contrast with the stop-start of Gaelic football is stunning, particularly since that game adopted some of the worst features of Australian Rules – bunching of players, multiple hand passes, playing back to the full back line or goalkeeper.
The GAA is aware of the problems with football and is trying to do something about them. Meanwhile, hurling has caught the imagination of everyone as has the rise of counties often thought to be good also-rans – Waterford, Galway, Limerick, Clare, Offaly. It is no longer assumed that the big three (Kilkenny, Tipperary, Cork) have the whole thing to themselves. Add the improvements in camera technology and television coverage so that the trajectory of the small ball can be followed and the skills of the participants can be appreciated for the magic they are.
And now hurling is coming to Australia. Not just a few old timers on a junket. Not like the International Rules players half-heartedly supported by the AFL and the GAA in a competition played whenever the bosses manage to get their act together – the last six were in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2017. This hurling game, however, is no junket. At stake is the beautiful Wild Geese Trophy, inspired by the Catalpa Wild Geese Memorial in Rockingham WA.
The game will feature two of the top county teams in Ireland: National League champions Kilkenny and defeated All Ireland finalists Galway. They will play at the Sydney Showgrounds on 11 November in the premium offering of the 2018 Sydney Irish Festival. This is described as
a celebration of all things Irish, showcasing traditional Irish dance and music with hurling clinics, market stalls, comedy, face painting, marching bands, buskers, amusement rides, player autograph sessions and plenty of family friendly activities right across the weekend.
The hurling match will start at 3 pm on Sunday 11 and will be televised on Fox Sports and available on Foxtel. Not to be missed.
The game will be preceded by a game between Victoria and New South Wales. The team listings below, show that this will be a serious clash, with county pride almost as important as state pride. This is State of Origin hurling. If I tell you that players come from Irish clubs like Wolfe Tones na Sionna (Clare), Watergrasshill (Cork), Rapparees (Wexford) and Tullaroan (Kilkenny), it should give an idea that these are hurlers with pedigree.
Here is how Victoria will line out