Walking into Dublin’s impressive Croke Park stadium, you soon realise that hurling isn’t just any old amateur sport.
In fact - hurling (which is essentially a terrifying, helmet-requiring airborne version of hockey and baseball combined) isn’t just an amateur sport. It’s Ireland’s national sport. Possibly their favourite sport. Tens of thousands of people pay big bucks to watch a match. Their sportsmen and women are Premier League-level famous within their counties. It’s televised on Ireland’s largest channels, and watched religiously.
But the big shocker is that hurlers, players of camogie (the female version of the sport) and participants of Gaelic football (similar to football but with the odd hand pass and some other complicated skills thrown in) - don’t get paid a penny, and when you ask them if they’d like to be paid, they tell you they don’t really mind.
They don’t want to get paid because playing this game is in their blood. There are no transfers in hurling (or indeed, gaelic football). You’re trained from as early as 4-years-old to become a hurling great for your home county’s team. You do it for pride, passion, and probably to impress your dad, but definitely not for a big pay day.
A sport that requires such devotion and inspires such passion is one worth getting to know. So, FHM visited the county of Kilkenny - home of the current All-Ireland hurling champions - to get to know their nation’s favourite sport…
Games are played in 35 minute halves.
In hurling, you’re not allowed to pick the ball off the ground directly with your hand. You have to flick it up off the ground. More on that later. However, you can catch it mid-air, throw it using a hand pass or if you’re feeling especially bold, kick it.
To move the ball across the pitch - you can hold it in your hands for four consecutive steps, but then you have to make a move. You’re either going to balance the ball on your hurly (while running) or hit it. Hard.
You score one point if you smack the ball over the rugby-style goal posts, and you score three points if you hurl it into the soccer-style goal. Score-keeping is pretty simple - highest tally at the end of the match wins.
The wooden stick (pictured below) is called a hurly. There’s no anglicised name for any of the kit required for hurling - so the leathery ball being smacked across a football-sized pitch is called a sliothar.
When playing, there are a few basic moves to get down...
First, how to pick up the ball when it’s on the ground. You run the end of the hurly on top of the ball, roll it and flip it onto the stick in a quick, swift motion.
It’s also essential you know how to flick the ball off the ground, so you can raise the ball into the air and strike it.
You've got to be balanced, and be able to run (fast) with the ball resting on the flat part of your hurly.
To block someone from catching the sliothar, players are taught to use the hurly in a way that ensures neither player gets a big wooden stick to the face.
The only way to watch hurling is in a stadium, with tens of thousands of screaming fans. And an old Irish lady sat behind you, randomly cursing members of both teams. Unlike with football, fans aren’t sectioned off by team. Everyone sits together, which makes it all the more exciting.
If you don’t live in Ireland, and for whatever reason can’t book a flight to Dublin immediately, you can usually catch highlights of games on YouTube or on the Gaelic Athletics Association’s online feed.
Here’s just a taste of what its like…