Hurling and Gaelic Football are Ireland’s national sports. This suits me just fine, as it means I don’t have to hear a word about basketball, baseball, or American football aside from when my friends back home update their Facebook statuses. Thank you, Expatriate Life, for catering to my lifelong guilt about being totally uninterested in my country’s national pastimes. I’m a bookworm – what do you want from me? Let me shrivel up in my room in peace.
As a foreigner, I have an excellent excuse not to know or care about Irish sports. Perversely, that almost makes me more interested in them. Chalk it up to that bookworm thing again; I love learning new things and without constant pressure from my fellow countrymen to care lest I be considered weird, it’s game on.
Gaelic Football – referred to as “Football,” “Gaelic,” and “GAA” – is thought to have evolved from an ancient Irish ball game called caid. It is played by teams of 15 on a rectangular grass field with H-shaped goals at the end. Players compete to get the round, leather balls through the goals. Highest score wins. To me, this sounds a lot like American Football apart from the shape of the ball, but Sean insists that it’s nothing like bloody American Football. For one, the ball is in continuous play. For two, the players don’t wear protective padding or helmets. GAA, Sean says, is more like soccer, except players can carry the ball.
Hurling is Ireland’s other great sport. Before you assume that it’s a disgusting contest played after a great night down the pub, I will explain: Hurling is much like field hockey or lacross – the object is for 15-player teams to get a ball (sliotar) through their respective goals by using a wooden stick (hurley ) to move the ball down a large, rectangular grass field.
A shot scored over the goalpost’s crossbar earns one point and a goal under the crossbar earns three. Hurling is thought to be one of the world’s fastest team sports, but no protective padding is worn by the players although a plastic helmet/faceguard is recommended. The female version of Hurling is called Camogie . I move to call girl Hurlers “Ghurlers” but no one I’ve suggested it to seems to think this is clever.
Whether or not they’re on official teams, all children play Hurling and Gaelic Football in school. Though Sean is a karate MASTER who enjoys the mayhem of the World Cup, team sports are only the faintest blip on his radar. His mother once told me that when Sean was made to play Gaelic Football as a child, he ran down the field with all his might … away from the other players. That’s just one of the many reasons we’re super friends.