Ireland’s sport makes return to Fenway after 61 years away – Boston Herald

Their players call it the fastest field sport in the world. Today, they’ll have the chance to prove it on the world-famous grass of Fenway Park.

For the first time since 1954, the deep-rooted Irish game of hurling will be played at the home of the Red Sox when Irish powers Dublin and Galway meet for an exhibition match at 1 p.m.

“I’m massively excited for the opportunity to showcase our game in what will be a hugely competitive game,” said David O’Callaghan, who plays for Dublin.

Hurling is mostly a foreign sport to Americans, as it’s mainly played in Ireland, but it’s a game that they can surely appreciate. It combines the skills of several sports that are wildly popular here with the intensity and excitement necessary for the foundation of a popular game.

For beginners, hurling is normally played with 30 players on the pitch — 14 vs. 14 on the field plus two goalkeepers. Teams set up with six defenders, two midfielders and six players on offense. Games are 70 minutes long with 35-minute halves.

Players use a flat side of a wooden stick called a hurley to maneuver a leather ball, which is called a sliotar — comparable to the size of a baseball — up the field. Scoring is simple: getting the sliotar into the goal counts as three points, while blasting it above the goal and between the uprights, similar to a field goal in American football, counts as one point.

Because of the smaller field size at Fenway, Dublin and Galway will play a modified game called Super 11s today, with 11 players on each side, and players can only score by getting the ball into the goal. The one-point goals won’t count. But other than that, the rules will stay the same.

Players aren’t allowed to pick the ball up with their hands, only by jabbing it with their hurl. Once on the hurl, they can grab the ball with a hand, but it can only be carried for four steps. Players can carry the sliotar on their hurl for as long as they want, and they can pass it by swinging it with their hurl, batting it with an open hand or even kicking it.

“There’s elements of baseball, where you have to strike the ball as it comes to you, so it involves your hand-eye coordination,” Galway’s Fergal Moore said. “And then in terms of general agility, it would probably reflect all American sports. Lacrosse, American football, basketball, soccer, ice hockey, all types of games. It all requires a certain level of fitness and agility that comes in all field sports.”

O’Callaghan believes the greatness of the sport even goes beyond the skills involved.

“There’s bravery and courage involved as well, and the contests can be really breathtaking just to watch,” he said. “When you see the sport, you’ll know what I’m talking about.”

A sport that originated in Ireland, hurling is played by unpaid amateurs, which is astounding given its popularity in the country. Players at this level typically train every night of the week and play year-round on top of having full-time jobs, so their passion and love for the game can’t be denied.

Today, they’ll showcase that love at Fenway, and hope to perhaps inspire a generation of hurlers in America, where the sport is virtually unknown.

“It’s an incredible game,” O’Callaghan said. “The beauty of hurling is that it involves every skill. The skills are just endless, really. We’re really proud of the game. We know how good of a game it is.

“Americans love sports and we know that as well. That’s the exciting part for us to really showcase our game.”

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