Hurling is one of the oldest field games in the world. It is an outdoor team game administered by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). The game has prehistoric origins and has been played for at least 3000 years in Ireland with the first literary reference dating back to 1272 BC. One of Ireland’s native Gaelic games, it shares a number of features with Gaelic football, such as the field and goals, the number of players, and much terminology.
Hurling shares a common Gaelic root with the sport of shinty, which is played predominantly in Scotland. There is a similar game for women called camogie.
The objective of the game is for players to use a wooden stick called a hurley to hit a small ball called a sliotar between the opponents’ goalposts either over the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar into a net guarded by a goalkeeper for one goal, which is equivalent to three points.
The sliotar can be caught in the hand and carried for not more than four steps, struck in the air, or struck on the ground with the hurley. It can be kicked, or slapped with an open hand (the hand pass) for short-range passing. A player who wants to carry the ball for more than four steps has to bounce or balance the sliotar on the end of the stick, and the ball can only be handled twice while in his possession.
Provided that a player has at least one foot on the ground, he may make a shoulder to shoulder charge on an opponent: (a) who is in possession of the ball, or (b) who is playing the ball, or (c) when both players are moving in the direction of the ball to play it.
No protective padding is worn by players. A plastic protective helmet with a faceguard is mandatory for all age groups. The game has been described as “a bastion of humility”, with player names absent from jerseys and a player’s number decided by his position on the field.
Hurling is played throughout the world, and is popular among members of the Irish diaspora in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and Asia. In many parts of Ireland, however, hurling is almost a way of life. It has featured regularly in art forms such as film, music and literature.
The final of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship was listed in second place by CNN in its “10 sporting events you have to see live”, after the Olympic Games and ahead of both the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Football Championship.
After covering the 1959 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final between Kilkenny and Waterford for BBC Television, English commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme was moved to describe hurling as his second favourite sport in the world after his first love, football.
Forbes magazine described the media attention and population multiplication of Thurles town ahead of one of the game’s annual provincial hurling finals as being “the rough equivalent of 30 million Americans watching a regional lacrosse game”