On Sunday July 12 we got to see an amazing athletic event the Munster Hurling final between Cork and Limerick. What a sport – it completely captured me. Curling along with Gaelic Football is part of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). The GAA has pitches all over the country even in the smallest communities. The Grand Final is held at Croke Park in Dublin with 80,000 fans in attendance. This is in a country of only five million people. The GAA is all community based and completely amateur; all the athletes compete for the love of the game. The community pride and spirit is off the charts (think Cal v Stanford or Alabama v Auburn) and you get the idea, but these rivalries sometimes go back a couple of hundred years. Tickets to the matches are only available through the clubs. The pregame ceremony consisted of a march of the two teams around the field led by a marching band. The singing of the Irish national anthem in Gaelic was very special, everyone sang with a real patriotic spirit and pride – a lesson we Americans could learn.
In Hurling the pitch is 130 – 145 meters in length & 80 to 90 meters wide and no stopping except for injury, there are no timeouts. Women play a version of the game called Camogie. The range of athletic demands is second to none. You must be as fit as an 800-meter runner. Be fast, quick and extremely agile. Possess both strength and power and be able to endure non-stop action for 70 minutes with a 15-minute halftime break. But that’s not all; the high level of skill is what is most impressive. It was nothing to see shots on goal made from 50 meters. It just blew me away to see a player run while balancing the ball on his Hurley while running at top speed for 20 or 30 meters, then stop on a dime toss the ball up and rip off a shot!
On the Tuesday following the match I got to do a training session with the Rebel Og Youth development squad (both Hurling & Gaelic Football players) at the Mardyke Arena, my hosts for the week. These boys were a fine group of young athletes. The GAA has quite an extensive development system to bring players up to the senior level.
My exposure was to GAA was very positive with everyone participating for the intrinsic value of the sport. Words are not adequate to do justice to this game; you have to see it played at this level to get a feel for it and appreciate it. This is true sport. No one including the coaches is paid. The players all have day jobs. They are playing for the love of sport; in fact three of the players on the Cork team also played in the Gaelic football match the Sunday before. It reminded of the “good old days” before sport was completely corrupted by money.