To watch a hurling match as a neophyte is to strain for parallels: Is it soccer with sticks? A mashup of football and baseball? Field hockey with a bad attitude?
The truth is that hurling predates them all. It’s a 3,000-year-old Irish ball sport with a cult following in Rhode Island, where the Providence Hurling Club takes on teams from Hartford, Worcester, Concord and Portland, Maine, as part of the North American Gaelic Athletic Association. Founded in 2015, the club plays its home games at the Pleasant View Recreation Center, the rare facility with the odd field dimensions (150 yards by 90 yards) needed for a hurling pitch.
This being an Irish sport, post-match victory toasts and drowning of sorrows commence with a craic at Patrick’s Pub on Smith Street (not coincidentally, the bar is also the team’s sponsor).
Providence Hurling Club chairman Mike Kennelly says “hurlers” range in age from the teens to mid-40s. Dubbed “the fastest game on grass,” hurling pits two teams of 13 players against each other for a pair of 30-minute halves. Each player carries a “hurley” – a stick used to scoop, carry and bat the ball – while advancing down the field. A ball batted into the opponent’s net is worth 3 points, while a shot that passes over the crossbar counts for a single point.
The club is always looking for new players and fans; first-timers can get a little instruction and borrow some equipment (a helmet and a hurley) to find out if hurling is in their blood. “The sport draws players due to its unique blend of skills similar to elements found in hockey, soccer, baseball and lacrosse,” says Mike. “While many players are also drawn due to their Irish heritage, we have a good number of players that don’t have any Irish ancestry, but who love the sport and club.”