April 13, 2011


The Craziest Men in Sports: In hurling, the ball moves 100 miles per hour. So why don't goalkeepers want to wear facemasks? (Loren Berlin, April 13, 2011, Slate)

A pair of hurlers in action. Click image to expand.A pair of hurlers in actionImagine you're sprinting down a 160-yard field. As you run, you balance a tiny ball—small as a hockey puck, hard as a baseball—on the end of your stick, as in lacrosse. Except where the lacrosse stick has a woven pocket, your stick has a flat, wooden blade, and where lacrosse requires protective gear you wear neither pads nor gloves. Now imagine that your opponents are waving these same axe-like cudgels. They are coming at you from all sides, hoping to hook you from behind or block you from the front. You race down the gigantic field while considering your options. You could pass to a teammate, either with a slap of the bare hand or with a kick. No one is open, though, so you prepare to take a shot—never mind that you're still 100 yards out from the goal. You lean back and swing hard, like a baseball player at bat, feeling the satisfying reverb in your arms as you connect with the ball.

Now imagine you're the goalkeeper preparing to block this shot. Because it's been flung from the other side of the field, that dense, little ball has gained a lot of momentum. By the time it reaches you it's moving at 100 miles per hour. And there you are, standing in a giant goal without any padding, preparing to either catch this ball-turned-ordnance with one, ungloved hand, or deflect it with your stick. All the while, the goal-hungry opposition descends on you like a swarm of bees.

Such is the job of the goalkeeper in hurling, a sport famous for its speed and the bravery (or lunacy) of its participants. Known as the fastest field sport on earth, hurling predates Christianity and is native to Ireland, possibly originating with the Celts. Two teams of 15 players compete to score the most points by hitting the ball, called a sliotar, between the opposing team's goalposts. While rugby-style tackling is prohibited, hockey-style body checks and shoulder charges are common. As in soccer, a player can shoot from anywhere on the field, including directly in front of the goal, and directly at the goalkeeper. One point is earned for a ball that flies between the posts but over the crossbar, while three are awarded for a goal scored underneath the crossbar, where the goalkeeper stands, a kamikaze in shorts and a jersey.

Hurling is a thrilling and dangerous sport, and in Ireland the players are universally admired for their nerves. Within this pool, it is the goalkeepers who are most venerated. "A key requirement to be a goalkeeper in hurling is that you have to be mad," says Feral McGill, head of games administration and player welfare for hurling's governing body, the Gaelic Athletic Association. To wit: In 1997, goalkeeper Joe Quaid shattered one testicle, and had to have half of the second removed, when he took a ball to the crotch on a penalty shot. Upon recovery he returned to the sport, and continued playing as a goalie for three more seasons.

...when the Irish hurlers play the Shinty men of Scotland

Posted by at April 13, 2011 6:26 AM

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