I have played sports my whole life and I have always thought of my teams as my family. As the season progresses we always grew close, but GAA football and hurling in Ireland is different.
GAA is the definition of a close knit community and a team truly feeling like a family. They are brothers to each other and treat each other like so. They love to tease and push each others’ buttons throughout practices. My first game with the St. Anne’s Boys as an athletic training intern, you could see right away that they had a strong bond and had played together for a long time. I was also surprised at the age range for their team, which is anywhere from 16 to 40 years old. You begin to play for your club when you’re old enough to hold and hurl a ball.
I got to see my host family brothers Max, Sam, and Tom go to practices for both sports, and they run them like a varsity practice; I was very impressed. You also stay with the same club team as you advance through the years. You have to stay with the club you were born into, which in my opinion, is a great idea so certain clubs cannot become elite due to people transferring. St. Anne’s is a very elite club and does very well either way, so they are very lucky to have the players they have.
Before I left for Ireland,I watched highlights of Gaelic football and hurling and I thought I was being punk’d. I thought there is no way this is an actual sport, I could not figure out how they could move like they did. So when standing at my first game I was so glued in to see if I could pick up on it. I asked a lot of the boys questions. I was very lucky they were patient with me. I always thought it was a professional sport, but they are in fact amateur. If you do exceptionally well you can play for the county team, and you are then seen as a professional, even a celebrity among others.
Every Sunday I sit with my internship supervisor Paul to watch “The Sunday Game”, which in the U.S. would be the equivalent of ESPN. During the program they recap the highlights of all the Gaelic football and hurling from all the matches from that day or day before. They discuss team tactics, player profiles, and overall how the team performed on the field. What I found interesting was that a player playing on what looks like a professional platform is just a normal guy in the neighboring parish. You could walk into a shop and see a man working behind the counter during the day and at night you could see him playing in a match.
The game itself is fun to watch, in my first post I mentioned how fast the game is, but you don’t truly see how quick they move until you’re on the sideline for one. I honestly feel like I should be out of breath for them since they run back and forth across the “pitch” or field the entire game. If I had the endurance that these guys had, I would be running marathons in my spare time for fun.
In Gaelic Football you can take 3-4 steps before you have to either kick the ball off your foot, dribble it, or pass it. So you are constantly looking around to pass to teammates or advance down the field and kick through either the poles above the net like we have in American football or into the soccer net below the poles. If you get the ball through the top it is one point and in the net is 3. All of the rules and scoring system became second nature to me after the second game or so.
Hurling is similar to Gaelic football rule-wise and scoring, but hurling is played using a hurl. The resembles a baseball bat but one end is flattened and the other end is bent in. The ball they use is called a sliotter, which is made up of cork or a hard metal center encased in leather sewn together. The number of steps is the same, but instead of hitting the ball off your foot, you can run with the sliotter balancing on your hurl or bounce it off your hurl every couple steps or pass it.
I have become a big fan of hurling and I am considering buying my own hurl! Wexford’s County team is doing exceptionally well this year. We advanced in the Leinster Finals for the first time since 2004 against Kilkenny, a major upset in the GAA world. I have seen a lot of Wexford flags hung proudly around town and I cannot wait to see them play Galway on July 2. Ill be cheering them on with a Wexford flag hanging outside my house!
I was very fortunate to get to work with such a wonderful group of guys to learn from the best! Thanks for listening to my crazy questions and letting me treat you’re not so pretty injuries. Cheers lads!
The New Yorker