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Hurling Rules As Understood by An American

Learn about hurling rules before going to a GAA match in Ireland. Draw analogies between the Irish sport of hurling and American sports.
I'm an avid sports fan.  My favorites are hockey and American football.  

Living in Dublin for a number of years raised my curiosity about Irish sports, especially hurling. I had the opportunity to catch the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) All-Ireland Senior Championship between Kilkenny and Tipperary at The 51 Bar, one of our favorite pubs in Ballsbridge

At most pubs, you'll find several big screens on which to watch the game. I've also been to a match in person at Dublin's Croke Park.

What is Hurling?

Hurling is an Irish sport with a three-thousand year history. A hurling match is played with a small ball called a sliotar and a wooden stick with a curved end known as a hurley. 

The objective of the game is to score in one of two ways. A player needs to hit the sliotar between the opposing team's goalposts. If the sliotar travels over the bar, the player earns a point for their team. If the sliotar goes through the posts under the bar, that's a goal. 

Hurling rules: referee throws a flag at Croke Park

Hurling is a deep part of Irish culture and is one of the country's national sports, with passionate supporters and a strong sense of community among players and fans alike.

Want to know the best part about hurling and other Irish sports? All the athletes are amateurs. They play for the love of the sport rather than for a big salary, fame, and glory.

The biggest hurling matches of the year take place in Croke Park in Dublin, an 80,000 seat stadium on Dublin's Northside that fills to the brim with cheering fans from all across Ireland. 

Understanding hurling rules: Croke Park

Irish Hurling Rules

How long is a hurling match in Ireland? A hurling match is comprised of two 35 minute halves. 

I found hurling rules to be relatively easy to understand and follow: 

  1. A player may not pick up the sliotar from the ground with their hand. Instead, they must use their hurley must be used to pick up the ball.
  2. The sliotar can be caught by hand while in the air or bouncing along the ground.
  3. A player may only transfer the sliotar to their hand two times, but the count is reset when the ball touches the ground
  4. In addition to using the hurley or their hand, the sliotar can also be kicked or batted to another player in one motion (not thrown)
  5. The sliotar may only be hand held for 4 consecutive steps.
  6. If a player balances the sliotar on their hurley, they can keep it their for as long as they'd like.
Hurling also requires fans to have solid math skills. The scores are reported as X-Y where X is the number of goals scored and Y is the number of points.  

Players get one point for getting the ball through the uprights and a goal for getting the ball past the goalie.  One goal is worth three points.

Giant hurleys on the wall at Croke Park in Dublin

How Does Hurling Compare to Other Sports?

I found it helpful to think of Irish hurling as a bit of a mash-up between several different sports including baseball, basketball, soccer, American football, hockey, and golf.

Here's my assessment of hurling relative to sports that Americans would be more familiar with:

Why Hurling is a Bit like Baseball

  • the sliotar looks a bit like a baseball
  • the players sometimes swing the hurley (hurling stick) like a bat
  • the 'bench' is called the dugout

Why Hurling is a Bit Like Basketball

  • If a player commits a foul, the other side is awarded the equivalent of a free throw

Why Hurling is a Bit like Soccer

  • The field is huge
  • the goal is gapingly large
  • the goaltender wears a different colored uniform than the other players
  • the referee can give a player a yellow card or a black card for bad behavior
  • The clock doesn't stop for injuries or the ball going out of bounds
  • The sliotar cannot be picked up from the ground with a player's hand

Why Hurling is a Bit like American Football

  • There are two ways to score (sending the ball past the goalkeeper (1 goal = 3 points) or through the uprights (1 point))
  • The uprights look an awful lot like goal posts

Why Hurling is a Bit like Ice Hockey

  • The players wear hockey-style helmets
  • The hurley is taped up and shaped a bit like a hockey stick
  • The players advance and pass the ball using their stick
  • The opposing sides are prone to fighting just like on the ice

Why Hurling is a Bit like Golf

  • The players occasionally wind up and drive the ball a long distance through the air.  Fore!
Overall, we really enjoy the fast paced sport of hurling and always enjoy catching a game at Croke Park. Did you know that you can take a Croke Park tour?

Who Has the Best Hurling Team in Ireland? 

Did you know that Limerick Ireland is home to the All-Ireland Championship team for the past 4 years? (2020-2023). Limerick also won the championship in 2018 but were edged out by Tipperary in 2019.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Hurling Rules As Understood by An American
Hurling Rules As Understood by An American
Learn about hurling rules before going to a GAA match in Ireland. Draw analogies between the Irish sport of hurling and American sports.
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