I play an Irish sport called hurling, which, as we hurlers like to say, is a cross between lacrosse and murder. It is not the ice sport of curling, where ex-janitors come to flex their sweeping skills. Rather, it is an ancient Gaelic game that combines every other field sport I can think of. Here’s the rundown:
Hurling is played by two teams of between nine and fifteen players, depending on how many are too hung over to make it to the field at noon (remember this is an Irish sport). The field is supposed to be over four hundred feet long, but we normally just play on a soccer or football field. Soccer goals are in place, but they have football posts attached, so it looks like an “H”. The game is played with a “sliotar,” a slightly more forgiving baseball. Each player has a wooden stick, similar to . . . well, similar to nothing you’ve ever seen. It’s called a “hurley” and its about three feet long with a flat paddle at the end. Whenever I’m on my walk home from hurling practice, hurley in hand, everyone stays out of my way. It looks like a prop from some medieval torture chamber. But during a game, the hurley is used to whack the sliotar, rather than someone’s kneecap—not intentionally, at least.
The object of the game, besides survival, is to have more points than the other team. It’s one point between the football posts and three points inside the soccer goal, which is difficult because the biggest, burliest man on the team plays goalie. The better players can score by putting the sliotar between the posts from half-field or more. I, on the other hand, have only been playing for two years and am lucky to keep the ball in bounds.
To move the ball, you normally use your hurley. You catch the sliotar with your free hand, then toss it on to your paddle. The paddle is flat, so you must balance the ball if you want to move more than the four legal steps of ball-in-hand. You are going to want to move because there is at least one sizeable Irishman on your heels. To shoot, you simply flip the ball back to your hand, then toss it to yourself like you would hit a baseball. Oh, yeah–you don’t hold the hurley like you would any other club. Your dominant hand is on bottom, so opposite a baseball bat, which makes for an initial awkward period of about a month.
You can also slap the ball with your free hand, which is good for short passes and assists, but no throwing. You can kick it and play a full game of “sliotar soccer,” as long as you don’t mind the axe chops of hurleys at your feet. The other team can eventually prevent you from kicking the ball, so you can also use your hurley to hit the ball on the ground–like a mutant form of croquet or a violent variation of field hockey.
The list of illegal moves is short: No throwing the sliotar, as I said. No picking it up from the ground with your hand–you must scoop it up with your hurley. No cross-checking with your stick. And, no… uh… that’s it.
I forgot to mention: it’s not a light contact sport. One of my first games, I nearly broke my thumb. Well, I
didn’t nearly break it—some bearded ape from Corvallis did. During the first game of an all-day tournament last year, I watched a man break both his tibia and fibula like a pretzel. The next game, a boy tore a ligament in his knee. But, most days it’s just a bunch of guys outside whacking some sliotars.
After every game, the teams join together for a round of beers and burgers, followed by another round of beers. But sometimes this occurs between games.
So, if any of this playful barbarism sounds appealing to watch, or if you hate yourself enough to play, come support the Eugene Trappers. We practice every Saturday, one o’clock behind Roosevelt Middle School. We’re looking for new players so please come by ready to hurl!
This Saturday, March 9, we host a tournament played at the Eugene Irish Festival. Check us out on Facebook and YouTube. There are only a few hurling teams in the Pacific Northwest and Eugene is home to one of them. So support your local boys and help us celebrate the Irish diaspora. Go Trappers!
Photos by Ricci Candé