No matter how today's exhibition at the Wanderers Grounds goes, the members of the Gaelic Athletic Association can be assured they had the most scrutinized package at the Halifax Fed-Ex office this week.
Not many shipping labels would originate in County Waterford, Ireland, or list these contents:
“One dozen sliotars”
“Two dozen hurleys, half 37-inch, half 35-inch.”
Like lots of ideas involving sports and Irish guys, this one was hatched at a bar. Halifax is filled with people of Irish descent, so why not introduce hurling and Gaelic football to the populace?
A Guinness, a Harp and a Jameson’s later, the Gaelic Athletic Association was formed, with Durty Nelly’s manager Tom o’Mahony, only here from the Emerald Isle a few months, pressed into service as chairman.
Hurling, “the fastest field game in the world,” has been described as being like hockey without any pads. It features the possibility of being bludgeoned with a cudgel or struck by a projectile. Or both. And Gaelic football — well, it’s rough.
The Gaels will host a squad from St. John’s, N.L., in a doubleheader of the two games, beginning at 1p.m. A group of about 20 men, mostly Irish with a few locals sprinkled in, has been training since March.
“Long term, our goal is to bring the game to schools,” o’Mahony said during a training session.
“We’re just trying to introduce our games, because any natural sportsman I’ve seen over here, like these two guys ...” he said, pointing out the two slimmest lads on the pitch.
“I thought they were natural, looked like they’d been playing it all along. That’s why there’s a possibility of developing a bigger Maritime league. Cape Breton are on board, Newfoundland is coming this weekend.”
The field at the Wanderers Grounds is not regulation size for either sport, so both will be played with jury-rigged rules and sides.
Gaelic football will be played first. It’s played with a ball that looks like a soccer ball without the checks, and it’s more demanding than most North American sports, o’Mahony said.
“There’s a lot less interchange of players, you’re required to play a lot longer. In a lot of cases, you’d end up playing the full 70 minutes, without a break, except for halftime,” he said.
“It’s very physical, but not violent. There’s tackling, but governed by rules. There’s a greater chance of getting injured in hurling than in Gaelic football, because of the stick.”
Ah, the stick, or the hurley. (The sliotar is the ball used in hurling.)
“It’s weighted like a framing hammer with a bladed edge at the end,” said Dartmouth firefighter Mike Sears, who took up the Irish games three weeks ago.
“I met a few of these guys just around town and they asked me if I could play sports, and I said I’d give it a try.
“They’re both very tricky. There’s some easy parts in both, then there’s some really challenging basic skills in both, but it’s really fun.”
Sears played box lacrosse and football growing up, and is finding hurling similar to lacrosse.
“A lot of the same movements as lacrosse, the hand-eye co-ordination,” he said, adding that the Irish games involve more pain.
“They’re both very violent in their own way, not so much violent, but aggressive. Any game you’re playing with a big chunk of lumber, someone is going to take a hit at some point that they don’t like.”
The Gaels are sponsored by the three downtown Irish pubs, naturally, and o’Mahony said camaraderie and post-match socializing are crucial components of Gaelic sports.
“They’re entwined,” he said. “You can have two teams out there, kicking the heads off each other, they’ll turn around after and all have a beer. You won’t see any alcohol during the game.”
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