Unheard of sports

A weekly sports column from the 100 Mile Free Press

Two of the biggest sporting events in Ireland kicked off this month, and it’s the only thing I want to talk about. However, the two sports in question are virtually unheard of in this country. So basically, there is no one here I can talk to it about.

I’m talking about the All-Ireland Gaelic Football and Hurling championships.

The two sports are vastly different, with hurling predating the country of Ireland or even when it was a colony of England. It’s much like lacrosse, where ancient Irish kingdoms and tribes used it as a form of combat and also sport. One of Ancient Ireland’s greatest mythological hero, Cú Chulainn (born Sétanta), started his legendary career by killing a smith’s, named Culann, dog in self-defence by driving a sliotar (a hurling ball) down its throat with his hurley. Culann was, of course, not very happy with the death of his dog, so Setanta promised to rear a new dog as a replacement, with himself guarding the smith’s house until the new canine is old enough.

Hurling, like lacrosse, is no longer like what it is back then though. Like most things, it has become modernized over its 4,000 years of history. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll give it a go. The game is played with sticks and the aforementioned sliotar. The purpose is to get the ball over a crossbar and between the uprights for one point, or in the net for a goal (worth three points. It can be struck with the stick (hurl) in the air or on the ground and can be slapped with an open hand or kicked. These are also methods for passing the ball.

Think lacrosse, hockey, field hockey, and baseball all rolled up into one.

Gaelic Football has a lot of similarities, except much younger in age, more modern and also played with a ball more like a volleyball.

It’s very similar to Australian Football.

What makes these two sports amazing though, is that the players are amateurs. They are farmers, doctors, car salesmen, mechanics and etc. However, the amount of work they put into their sport they might as well be professionals. They are top-class athletes, but the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) – the two sport’s governing bodies – has kept the sport amateur despite the fact that it rakes in millions of dollars (well, Euros) every year, but that’s a column for another day.

This year’s championships will be the 132nd year they have been played. Unfortunately, the county I support (Louth) has already been eliminated by the Gaelic football tournament in the first round of qualifiers by Antrim. However, I will still be watching as many as games as I can as well as the final, which will be on Sept. 1. I just hope someone can beat Dublin, who has won it each year since 2015.

Louth didn’t even participate in the hurling qualifiers.

The final for the hurling championship will take place on Aug. 18.

You better bet that I will be watching both competitions, and if anyone has any interest in two of the most interesting and skilled games on the planet, feel free to get in touch.

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