Irish Sport Hurls into Catholic University

Team members gather on field during hurling practice. Courtesy of Liz Friden.

By Jared Prenda

“The Fastest Game on Grass” has come to the Catholic University of America. The ancient Gaelic sport of hurling has existed for 4000 years, but the Brookland Gaels have been many university students’ introduction to the national sport of Ireland, since 2014 alum Bridget McCarthy founded the team four years ago.

           For those who are unaware of the sport, hurling is best described as a mix of lacrosse, field hockey and soccer. The game is played with flat wooden paddles, called a hurley, roughly the size of lacrosse sticks and your hands. The objective is to move the ball, called a sliotar that is roughly  a rubber baseball, around the field. Points are scored through the posts of a field goal for either for one point or into a net guarded by a goalie for three points. The field is roughly the size of a soccer field with either seven or thirteen players a side not including the goalie.

           Despite the sport going international, the game is yet to find solid footing in the United States but there are professional teams in many cities around the country, most notably in Boston, New York and Montana. The Gaels play in a league governed by the National Collegiate Gaelic Athletics Association (NCGAA), which allows teams from all over the country to come together and play tournaments against each other.

           The Gaels are a young team, with only five veterans and just as many rookies.  The two co-captains are seniors Eamon Ross and John Develin who bring most of the experience to the team. The two captains hope to transfer this experience to their new players.  Despite this, the team’s biggest goal for the year is to maintain their size and grow in numbers.

           “We have competed the last few years and have won some games but since we are so new and small our goal for the semester is to stay regular (maintain at least seven players) with numbers,” Ross said. “We have some veterans who know what they’re doing, and we want to transfer that to the new folks. There is no experience required. It’s a fun game that anyone can play, and everyone has a good time and the team is very open and welcoming to new players.”

           The team’s largest issue is its funding. The Office of Campus Activities has capped the number of club sports teams to fund, therefore denying the Gaels any funding. As a result, the team goes by the Brookland Gaels and are not officially associated with the university. This means the team funds its own way to tournaments and pays for its own equipment.

           The Gaels have all discovered their own sport in different ways. Ross became interested in hurling through a friend in high school from Ireland, while freshman Joe Keller had his own story.

           “I spent a summer in Ireland in 2012 and spent most of the time in Cork. My friends in Limerick told me about a sport they called ‘crazy ice hockey in the air’ and I was all in. So playing in a somewhat organized league, even just a practice, was a culture shock since I was wearing a helmet and couldn’t hit the ball or keep up to the speed but I had so much fun and wanted to keep playing.”

           The team begins its season soon, with its first tournament coming on September 29 in Sea Girt, New Jersey and a second only a week later in Rockland, New York. The team is always looking for new members and anyone looking to play a fun new game is welcome to reach out to the team and come to a practice.

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