Unique Sports Advent Calendar – December 5: Hurling

You’re reading this the day after I had a family Christmas gathering. I probably ate fair too much and am currently regretting that decision, but it was likely a lot of fun.

And now, here is Iománaíocht, or, as us non-Irish speakers call it, hurling.


Hurling is thought to predate Christianity, which is pretty impressive. It arrived in Ireland with the Celts, and the first written evidence of it is from the fifth century. Hurling is related to shinty (Scotland), cammag (Isle of Man) and bandy (England/Wales), and references are included in the fourteenth century Statues of Kilkenny.

In medieval times, it was played by teams from neighbouring villages, hundreds of players a side, lasting for hours (people in those days must have been insane). However, it gradually began to quieten down, with the Irish Hurling Union being founded at Trinity College Dublin in 1879, and attempting to draw up a code of rules for clubs across the country. The first All-Ireland was in 1887, with the final being played on April 1, 1888, won by Tipperary over Galway, 1-1 to 0-0.

The All-Ireland has been played annually since then, with Cork, Kilkenny, and Tipperary being the dominant teams. It was held as a demonstration sport at the 1904 Olympics, with two GAA clubs from the United States competing. The sport had a major change with helmets and faceguards becoming compulsory from January 1, 2010.

How to Play

Hurling is fifteen a side (a goalkeeper, three full backs, three half backs, two midfielders, three half forwards and three full forwards). You’ll need players with hurleys, which are like hockey sticks, but have a fat bit at the bottom instead of a curved bit. Also, a sliotar is required (that’s the ball), and appears to be like a baseball, but the size of a tennis ball.

The field is about 140x85m, and has rugby-like goalposts at each end. You score three points by sending the sliotar under the bar (a goal), and one point if the ball goes over the bar.

To start the game, the referee throws the sliotar in between the midfielders. The players cannot directly pick the sliotar up off the ground, instead, they need to flick it up with the hurley. To pass it, it can be either struck in the air with the hurley, flicked to another player, or kicked and slapped (in short-range).

Players can shoulder charge other players, within reason, and can tackle with the hurley (but don’t hit the opponent with it.)

Who’s on Top?

The 2016 All-Ireland final happened on September 4, 2016, and was won by Tipperary for the 27th time, scoring 2-27 (Séamus Callinan scored 0-13, winning the best on ground). Their opponents, Kilkenny, scored 2-20.


Australia has a semi-strong tradition for hurling. In Melbourne in 1844, a match took place at Batman’s Hill as a counterpoint to a march by the Orange Order, attracting over five hundred Irish immigrants. An 1885 game between two Sydney teams attracted over ten thousand people, despite newspaper columnists dubbing it “Two Degrees Safer than War.”

We have a website for hurling, and Gaelic football, at the Gaelic Football & Hurling Association of Australasia.


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