Last Sunday saw the climax of this year’s All-Ireland Hurling Championship and pitted two of the country’s oldest and most bitter rivals against each other. Tipperary beat Kilkenny 4.17 (29 points) to 1.18 (21 points). What made this victory special is not only that fact that Tipperary, the county commonly known as ‘The Home of Hurling’, had not won the championship for nine years, but that Kilkenny were hoping to win their fifth straight title. A five-in-a-row had never been achieved before and Kilkenny are regularly referred to as the greatest team ever.
Hurling is a stick and ball game, and has some elements of hockey and lacrosse. The fastest and oldest field sport in the world, hurling is played on a square pitch about 140 feet in length, and has a set of goals that are similar to a combination of soccer and American football. If you manage to put the ball into the net, you’ve scored a goal; if you put the ball above the net and between the two posts, you’ve scored a point. A goal is worth three points. Equipment is simply a hurley (a wooden stick, curved at the base), a sliotar (not too dissimilar to a baseball), and a helmet, the wearing of which was only made compulsory this year.
Hurling is organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association. This organisation was set up in Thurles, Tipperary in 1884 and is still an amateur organisation. The actual game itself has been around for much longer. The earliest references to it are pre-historic. Records show evidence that hurling was a regular past-time in Ireland for well over 2,000 years. In fact the first recorded reference to hurling dates to the Battle of Moytura, near Cong in County Mayo (in the West of Ireland) in 1272 BC between the native Fir Bolg and the invading Tuatha De Danann. When both sides were preparing for battle they decided to have a hurling contest instead, between twenty-seven of the best players from each side. Both sides fought a bloody match and in the end when they were bruised and broken, the match finished with the the Fir Bolg victorious who then slew the Tuatha De Danann. Hurling is today a little bit safer!! Players still need to be courageous.
Currently the three strongest counties in Ireland are Tipperary, Cork and Kilkenny (there are 32 counties in all in Ireland). Well known hurlers are Eoin Kelly (Tipperary), Henry Shefflin (Kilkenny), and twin-brothers Ben & Jerry O’Connor (Cork). The season is effectively over, but will begin again in February and exciting games are to be seen around the country before the end of the Spring Semester.