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Hurling, a Gaelic game

Hurling is the most Irish of sports. It's an ancient game evolved from a warlike arrangement on large sections of land.

The Anglo-Normans first tried in the 14th century to ban hurling, along with other practices of Gaelic culture. Obviously, it did not work; nor did the efforts of British overlords to do the same throughout the following centuries.

Hurling is to this day associated with Irish Catholicism and Republicanism. That's not to say its play is political (or religious, for that matter.) It sort of transcends* all of that.

On the field, each player carries a lopside-flatheaded ash stick called a hurley. This is used to control a hard ball, the sliotar, pigskin over cork, smaller than an American baseball.

A player may pick the ball up off the ground with the hurley, the hand, or the foot. He* may carry the ball for up to four paces in hand, and may carry it on the hurley indefinitely. Often this is done with a short "dribbling" bounce down the "pitch" when the action permits. With a pop and a swat, the ball is passed or sent in toward the goal. It is a dangerous game, but there seems a sort of ballet in which players are injured less frequently than one would imagine in a field game with hardwood sticks. It's considered advisable to wear a helmet — some do, and some don't.

The pitch is about the size of a soccer field. At either end is a pair of high goalposts. At about the height of the top of a soccer goal-cage is a bar, and indeed below this bar it is like a soccer goal-cage.

A goalkeeper also carries a hurley; it is a bit larger than the field version. When a player hits the ball past the keeper into the lower region, it is a "goal," worth three points. Above the bar, between the posts, it is a "point." Thus, the score includes these two components, as the September 9, 2001 all-Ireland final in Croke Park: Tipperary 2/18, Galway 2/15.


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*Once, in a place called Peter's Bar and Lounge in Cahir, Co. Tipperary, the radio news told of some particularly brutal killing in Belfast. The barmaid turned the volume down. The two old gents back of my right shoulder kept on with their conversation, talk of local hurling. Plaudits for some boy they agreed was good stuff on the pitch.

"Lovely hurlin'."

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* "He" : the women's version of hurling is called camogie....

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