It’s in our blood
Have you ever tried describing Hurling to a person from another country?
‘Well, it’s a bit like field hockey, only the ball comes off the ground. It can kind of be a bit like lacrosse. Only it’s better than the both of them! And did you know? It’s the fastest field sport in the world?’
The pride that people have in Hurling. You can sense the feeling of passion and delight when you hear someone say about Hurling being one of the fastest games in the world.
We pride ourselves on the fact that in this small country, we have a national game that is the one of the oldest in the world. We admire the skill and the ability that it takes to play this game. The dedication and passion that fans feel, their commitment to their county and their sheer love for watching a game of Hurling.
So what makes it so different?
Well, the game itself isn’t quite similar to any other sport. I remember as a child being at a Hurling match where a group of Dutch holidaymakers had come to watch the game. They were in complete disbelief, they had so many questions, and people around me proudly answered them.
It takes sheer skill to play Hurling. From your hand-eye coordination to your speed, your accuracy, your shooting skills, your ability to defend. You have to be vigorous and brave, you can take so many knocks and a blows, all the while praying that you don’t pick up an injury and can play on.
Perhaps most of all, it is working as a team.
That what makes it stand out, it is a team effort; both on and off the pitch.
You may not be playing on the team that is on the pitch, but at a Hurling match you are surrounded by a team of people, all completely engrossed in the game, showing their passion. The rawness of the roars that come from the supporters.
In sports like soccer, the majority of supporters are segregated, you sit with supporters from your team. The supporters from the opposition are generally seated at a different part of the stadium. This is not the case in the GAA.
Both of you will show the same amount of passion and hunger for the win, hoping that it is your team that will come out on top. This only adds to the atmosphere at a Hurling match, and inevitably leads to some heated debates over, whether it was a point or not, or certain styles of play.
But more so, it unites the game.
On the hurling pitch though, it is a rivalry like no other. Especially when it comes to a local derby. Take Kilkenny and Tipperary for example.
They are neighbouring counties but in different provinces. On the pitch, it’s pure hunger and desire for what’s at stake, and that emulates with the supporters. Hurlers from these two counties have been raised a matter of miles apart, and when the final whistle is blown, you shake hands and enter the same tunnel together.
The respect that GAA players have for each other makes it stand out as a sport.
What makes the GAA so unique as well, is the fact that it is amateur. Men and women dedicate their lives to their sport, as well as holding down full-time jobs and families. A tough task, but their dedication is to be admired. It is derived from a pure love for the game.
Popular figures in Sport have admired what it takes to be involved with the GAA. The likes of former Irish Rugby Captain Brian O’Driscoll highlighted the commitment when he credited GAA players in an interview for balancing their sport with their careers.
Hurlers are heroes for so many people, but what makes it so different is that it is a sport that is played on such a personal level. You could go and watch your favourite player play in a match filled with 82,000 people, all screaming and shouting their support. Then the following day, you could pass him in the street, or he could be coaching your child.
And it’s that element, the grassroots and the fact that community and families are at the core of this sport that makes it completely different.
A home away from home
When you go abroad, a GAA jersey is the unofficial passport of Ireland. As a child, I remember being in Italy and France, and for my father seeing someone wearing a GAA jersey was the open invitation to have a conversation with a complete stranger. A home away from home as such.
It never leaves you. Hurling is so much more than going to a match or watching one on television. It is part of who you, who we are. It is being involved in something that is much greater than yourself. It is your sense of identity and your belonging.