With days getting longer and the sun making a welcome return, our minds have turned to sport. Gaelic Games to be precise. So to get the lowdown, we asked sports journalist and all-round mega-fan Paul Rowley to tell us exactly what he knows about these great games…
We’ve heard hurling can look like a cross between a hockey match and a bar brawl, is that about right?
Well that’s hurling for you. It dates back a lengthy 3,000 years when it was brought to our fair shores by the Celts and is now the world’s fastest moving team sport. The game involves catching and hitting the sliotar (a small, hard leather ball) with hurleys (the sticks). The sliotar reaches speeds of 150km per hour, so it’s not far off catching a passing meteor with your bare hands. The plan is to put the sliotar through the uprights of the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar and past the goalie for three points. As for the ‘fighting’, it is a passionate game. You can tell a player’s dedication by how many teeth he’s parted with. Camogie is the female (and just as fierce) equivalent.
So what’s this about a game of football where you use your hands too?
Gaelic Football has very early origins, developing from a Medieval sport called Caid. Gaelic has the same points scoring structure as hurling but is played without sticks and with a bigger ball. Both Caid and hurling had ‘cross-country’ forms, which were chaotic to say the least: the number of competitors was unlimited and whole communities from rival villages would compete for hours, and even days, aiming to sneak a ball over parish boundaries.
So is there much poaching between teams?
One of the most distinctive – and some would say wonderful – things about the GAA is that it is totally amateur. From the players to the managers to the groundsmen, nobody is getting paid to be there. It is rather extraordinary to watch the championship being played throughout the year and think that the only thing keeping so many people here is pure passion and devotion for the sport. The result is that there is no ‘poaching’ between teams and players cannot be lured to the opposition.
So tell us about match days.
When the Championship draws towards its climax, the games move to Croke Park and Dublin comes alive with excitement. Then it begins – the two teams line out with 15 players each competing on wide, expansive fields and, in many cases, baring their teeth at each other. Each game lasts 70 torrid, thrilling, edge-of-seat minutes and involves lots of bitten nails and gasps of anguish.
And in an instant it’s over. Tears of joy or sadness are shed and everyone heads off wearing their county’s colours with pride.
So is there a gift shop that sells players’ teeth?
No, you’ll have to comb the pitch yourself for a souvenir like that.