Hurling - History and Rules of Play

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

St. Louis Gaelic Athletic Club - Our local organization
For the Cornish sport, see Cornish hurling.

Hurling (in Irish, iománaíocht or iomáint) is an outdoor team sport of ancient Gaelic origin, administered by the GAA, and played with sticks called hurleys and a ball called a sliotar. The game, played primarily in Ireland, has prehistoric origins and is thought to be the world's fastest field team sport in terms of game play.[1][2] One of Ireland's native Gaelic games, it shares a number of features with Gaelic football, such as the field and goals, number of players, and much terminology. There is a similar game for women called camogie (camógaíocht).

The object of the game is for players to use a wooden axe-shaped stick called a hurley (in Irish a camán, pronounced [ˈkamɑːn]) to hit a small ball called a sliotar (pronounced [ˈʃlɪtəɹ]) between the opponents' goalposts either over the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar into a net guarded by a goalkeeper for one goal, which is equivalent to three points.

The sliotar can be caught in the hand and carried for not more than three steps, struck in the air, or struck on the ground with the hurley. It can be kicked or slapped with an open hand (the hand pass) for short-range passing. A player who wants to carry the ball for more than three steps has to bounce or balance the sliotar on the end of the stick (this is often called "going solo"), and the ball can only be handled twice while in his possession.

Side to side shouldering is allowed although body-checking or shoulder-charging is illegal. No protective padding is worn by players, and although a plastic protective helmet with faceguard is recommended, this is not mandatory for players over 19.

Hurling is represented in some form on all continents apart from Antarctica and is popular among members of the Irish diaspora in the United Kingdom, North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina.




Hurley and sliotar (Irish Camán agus sliotar)


Playing field

A standard hurling pitch

Hurling is played on a pitch 130 - 145 m long and 80 - 90 m wide. The goals at each end of the field are formed by two posts, which are usually 6 m high, set 6.4 m apart, and connected 2.44 m above the ground by a crossbar. A net extending in back of the goal is attached to the crossbar and lower goal posts. The same pitch is used for Gaelic football; the GAA, which organises both sports, decided this to facilitate dual usage. Lines are marked at 13 m, 20 m and 65 m and 45 m in gaelic football from each end-line. Shorter pitches and smaller goals are used by under-13s and younger.


See also: Gaelic football and Hurling positions

Teams consist of fifteen players and they line out as below:

The panel is made up of 24-30 players and 5 substitutions are allowed per game.


Senior inter-county matches last 70 minutes (35 minutes a half). All other matches last 60 minutes (30 minutes a half). For age groups of under-13 or lower, games may be shortened to 50 minutes. Timekeeping is at the discretion of the referee who adds on time in lieu of stoppages at the end of each half.

If a knockout game finishes in a draw, a replay is played. If a replay finishes in a draw, 20 minutes (10 minutes a side) extra time is played. If the game is still tied, another replay is played.

In club competitions replays are increasingly not used due to the fixture backlogs caused. Instead, extra time is played after a draw, and if the game is still level after that it will go to a replay.

In inter-County matches there has been a call for a dedicated time keeper, as referees can often be accused of playing enough extra time for the purpose of a draw...

Technical fouls

The following are considered technical fouls ("fouling the ball"):


Scoring is achieved by sending the sliotar (ball) between the opposition's goal posts. The posts, which are at each end of the field, are "H" posts as in rugby football but with a net under the crossbar as in football. The posts are 6.4 m apart and the crossbar is 2.44 mts above the ground.

If the ball goes over the crossbar, a point is scored and a white flag is raised by an umpire. If the ball goes below the crossbar, a goal, worth three points, is scored, and a green flag is raised by an umpire. The goal is guarded by a goalkeeper. Scores are recorded in the format {goal total} - {point total}. For example, the 1997 All-Ireland final finished: Clare 0-20 Tipperary 2-13. Thus Clare won by "twenty points to two thirteen" (20 to 19). 2-0 would be referred to as "two goals", never "two zero". 0-0 is said "no score".


Players may be tackled but not struck by a one handed slash of the stick; exceptions are two handed jabs and strikes. Jersey-pulling, wrestling, pushing and tripping are all forbidden. There are several forms of acceptable tackling, the most popular being:

Restarting play


A hurling match is watched over by eight officials:

The referee is responsible for starting and stopping play, recording the score, awarding frees and issuing penalty cards to players after offences.

Linesmen are responsible for indicating the direction of line balls to the referee and also for conferring with the referee. The fourth official is responsible for overseeing substitutions, and also indicating the amount of stoppage time (signalled to him by the referee) and the players substituted using an electronic board. The umpires are responsible for judging the scoring. They indicate to the referee whether a shot was: wide (spread both arms), a 65 m puck (raise one arm), a point (wave white flag), or a goal (wave green flag).

Contrary to popular belief within the association, all officials are not obliged to indicate "any misdemeanours" to the referee, but are in fact only permitted to inform the referee of violent conduct they have witnessed which has occurred without the referees knowledge. A linesman/umpire is not permitted to inform the referee of technical fouls such as a "Third time in the hand", where a player catches the ball for a third time in succession after soloing or an illegal pick up of the ball. Such decisions can only be made at the discretion of the referee.


A standard hurling helmet
Further information: History of Hurling

Hurling is older than the recorded history of Ireland. It is thought to predate Christianity, having come to Ireland with the Celts. [3] It has been a distinct Irish pastime for at least 2000 years. [4] The earliest written references to the sport in Brehon law date from the fifth century.[3] Hurling is related to the games of shinty that is played primarily in Scotland, cammag on the Isle of Man and bandy that was played formerly in England and Wales. The tale of the Táin Bó Cuailgne (drawing on earlier legends) describes the hero Cúchulainn playing hurling at Emain Macha. Similar tales are told about Fionn Mac Cumhail and the Fianna, his legendary warrior band. Recorded references to hurling appear in many places such as the 13th century Statutes of Kilkenny and a 15th century grave slab survives in Inishowen, County Donegal[5]

The Eighteenth Century is frequently referred to as "The Golden Age of Hurling." This was when members of the Anglo-Irish landed gentry kept teams of players on their estates and challenged each other's teams to matches for the amusement of their tenants.

One of the first modern attempts to standardise the game with a formal, written set of rules came with the foundation of the Irish Hurling Union at Trinity College Dublin in 1879. It aimed "to draw up a code of rules for all clubs in the union and to foster that manly and noble game of hurling in this, its native country".[6]

The founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1884 turned around a trend of terminal decline by organising the game around a common set of written rules. The 20th century saw greater organisation in Hurling and Gaelic Football. The all-Ireland Hurling championship came into existence along with the provincial championships. Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary dominated hurling in the 20th century with each of these counties winning more than 20 All-Ireland titles each. Wexford, Waterford, Clare, Limerick, Offaly, Dublin, and Galway were also strong hurling counties during the 20th century.

As hurling entered the new millennium, it has remained Ireland's second most popular sport. An extended qualifier system resulted in a longer All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, but Cork and Kilkenny have come to dominate the championship and some argue that the All-Ireland has become less competitive. Pay-for-play remains controversial and the Gaelic Players Association continues to grow in strength. The inauguration of the Christy Ring Cup and Nicky Rackard Cup gave new championships and an opportunity to play in Croke Park to the weaker county teamsInternational

Further information: Hurling outside Ireland

Although many hurling clubs exist worldwide, only Ireland has a national team (although it includes only players from weaker counties in order to ensure matches are competitive). It and the Scotland shinty team have played for many years with modified match rules (as with International Rules Football). The match is the only such international competition. However, competition at club level has been going on around the world since the late nineteenth century thanks to emigration from Ireland, and the strength of the game has ebbed and flowed along with emigration trends. Nowadays, growth in hurling is noted in Continental Europe, Australasia, and North America.


Hurling was brought to Britain by Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century. The game is administered by Britain GAA. Warwickshire GAA compete against Irish teams in the Nicky Rackard Cup. London GAA are the only non-Irish team to have won the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship (having captured the title in 1901), and still compete in the Christy Ring Cup.

North America

Further information: Canada GAA, New York GAA and North American GAA

References to hurling on the North American continent date from the 1780s in modern-day Canada concerning immigrants from County Waterford and County Kilkenny,[7] and also, in New York City. After the end of the American Revolution, references to hurling cease in American newspapers until the aftermath of the Potato Famine when Irish people moved to America in huge numbers, bringing the game with them.[8]

Newspaper reports from the 1850s refer to occasional matches played in San Francisco, Hoboken, and New York City. The first game of hurling played under GAA rules outside of Ireland was played on Boston Common in June 1886.

In 1888, there was an American tour by fifty Gaelic athletes from Ireland, known as the 'American Invasion.' This created enough interest among Irish Americans to lay the groundwork for the North American GAA. By the end of 1889, almost a dozen GAA clubs existed in America, many of them in and around New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Later, clubs were formed in Boston, Cleveland, and many other centers of Irish America.

In 1910, twenty-two hurlers, composed of an equal number from Chicago and New York, conducted a tour of Ireland, where they played against the County teams from Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick, Dublin, and Wexford.

Traditionally, hurling was a game played by Irish immigrants and discarded by their children. Many American hurling teams took to raising money to import players directly from Ireland. In recent years, this has changed considerably with the advent of the Internet. Outside of the traditional North American GAA cities of New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, clubs are springing up in other places where they consist of predominantly American-born players who bring a new dimension to the game and actively seek to promote it as a mainstream sport, especially Joe Maher, a leading expert at the sport in Boston.[9] Currently, the Milwaukee Hurling Club, with 264 members, is the largest North American Hurling club, which is made of all Americans and very few Irish immigrants.

The GAA have also begun to invest in American college students with university teams springing up in Stanford, Berkeley, Purdue, Marquette and other schools. On January 31st 2009, the first ever US collegiate hurling match was held between Stanford and UC Berkeley, organized by the newly-formed California Collegiate Gaelic Athletic Association.


Irish immigrants began arriving in Argentina in the 19th century.[10]

The earliest reference to hurling in Argentina dates from the late 1880s in Mercedes, Buenos Aires. However, the game was not actively promoted until 1900 when it came to the attention of author and newspaperman William Bulfin. Under Bulfin's patronage, the Argentine Hurling Club was formed on July 15, 1900, leading to teams being established in different neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and the surrounding farming communities.

Games of hurling were played every weekend until 1914 and received frequent coverage even from Argentina's Spanish language newspapers like La Nacion. After the outbreak of World War I, however, it became almost impossible to obtain hurleys from Ireland. An attempt was made to use native Argentine mountain ash, but it proved too heavy and lacking in pliability. Although the game was revived after the end of the war, the golden age of Argentine hurling had passed. World War II finally brought the era to its close.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, immigration from Ireland slowed to a trickle. In addition, native born Irish-Argentines assimilated into the local community. The last time that hurling was played in Argentina was in 1980, when the Aer Lingus Hurling Club conducted a three week tour of the country and played matches at several locations.[11] Although the Argentine Hurling Club still exists, it has switched to playing field hockey, rugby, and soccer.

Australia and New Zealand

Further information: Australasia GAA

The earliest reference to hurling in Australia is related in the book "Sketches of Garryowen." On July 12, 1844 a match took place at Batman's Hill in Melbourne as a counterpoint to a march by the Orange Order. Reportedly, the hurling match attracted a crowd of five hundred Irish immigrants, while the Orange march shivered out of existence.[12]

In 1885, a game between two Sydney based teams took place before a crowd of over ten thousand spectators. Reportedly, the contest was greatly enjoyed despite the fact that one newspaper dubbed the game "Two Degrees Safer Than War."[13]

The game in Australasia is administered by Australasia GAA.

South Africa

Soldiers who served in the Irish Brigade during the Anglo-Boer War are believed to have played the game on the veldt. Immigrants from County Wicklow who had arrived to work in the explosives factory in Umbogintwini, KwaZulu-Natal formed a team c. 1915-1916. A major burst of immigration in the 1920s led to the foundation of the Transvaal Hurling Association in Johannesburg in 1928. Games were traditionally played in a pitch on the site of the modern day Johannesburg Central Railway Station every Easter Sunday after Mass.

In 1932, a South African hurling team sailed to Ireland to compete in the Tailteann Games, where they carried a banner donated by a convent of Irish nuns in Cape Town. On their arrival, they were personally received by Ireland's Prime Minister, Éamon de Valera.

South African hurling continued to prosper until the outbreak of World War II, which caused immigration from Ireland to cease and made it impossible to import equipment. Games of hurling and Gaelic football were occasionally sponsored by the Christian Brothers schools in Boksburg and Pretoria well into the 1950s. Both games have all but ceased to be played.[14]


Yesterday, Tuesday, a hurling match took place in the Phoenix Park, which was honored with the presence of Her Excellency, the Countess of Westmoreland, and several of the nobility and gentry, besides a vast concourse of spectators. Much agility and athletic contention was afforded, until the spectators forced into the playing ground. Colonel Lennox, Mr. Daly, and several other gentlemen, most obligingly used their endeavours to prevent any interruption to the players, but to no effect. This active contest ended without either side claiming triumph and remains to be yet decided.

[15] A report from the Dublin newspaper Hibernian Journal, 17 October 1792

On Christmas Day and during the Christmas season we used to have hurley matches, and the whole village used to be mixed up in the game. Two men would be chosen, one from each side, for captains. Each of them used to call up man by man in turns until all who were on the strand were distributed in the two sides. We had hurleys and a ball. The game was played on the white strand without shoes or stockings, and we went in up to our necks whenever the ball went into the sea. Throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas time there wasn't a man able to drive his cow to the hill for the stiffness of his back and his bones; a pair or so would have a bruised foot, and another would be limping on one leg for a month.

[16] Tomás Ó Criomhthain reminiscing about his youth on Great Blasket Island in the years before the regularisation of hurling rules. Translated by Robin Flower

There was a grand Hurling Match in the neighborhood of Gort in the county for a considerable sum of Money between the Counties of Galway and Clare; the Hurlers of the latter made a very handsome appearance. They marched from Gort to the Turlough, two miles (3 km) distant, preceded by the Band of Musick, a French horn, a Running Footman and a fellow in Antic or Harlequin Dress. None of the Hurlers was hurt, the greatest harmony having subsisted. The County of Clare Hurlers were elegantly entertained at Crushenehaire the Night following and a Hundred guineas was proposed to be Hurled for, but the time and place not yet agreed. The above procession closed with many Carriages and Horsemen, the numerous company at the Turlough made a fine appearance.

[17] The newspaper Pue's Occurrences, October 16, 1759

27 June 1827, Feast of Saint Peter and Paul.

A holiday... Hurling on the Fair Green. It was a good game. The sticks were being brandished like swords. Hurling is a war-like game. The west side won the first match and the east the second. You could hear the sticks striking the ball from one end of the Green to the other. I was watching from the top end myself with Doctor Céatinn and two priests. The well-to-do young men and women were strolling up and down the Green and on the level causeway in the center.

[18]From the Irish language diaries of Amhlaoibh Ó Súilleabháin, a 19th century schoolmaster and politician from Callan, County Kilkenny. Translated by Tomás de Bhaldraithe

Major hurling competitions

The counties of Ireland, coloured by dominant sport. The blue counties are hurling's heartland, hurling and Gaelic football are equally popular in the green counties, while hurling is a minor sport in the yellow counties.
Further information: GAA Competitions




  1. ^ "New York Times: WHAT'S DOING IN; Dublin". Retrieved on 2008-05-03. 
  2. ^ "'Google search results for "hurling fastest field game"'". 
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^ Roger Hutchinson, "Camanachd! The Story of Shinty", pages 27, 28.
  6. ^ Irish Examiner - 2007/01/20: Reviving the old art, TCD step up in class
  7. ^ Seamus J. King, "The Clash of the Ash on Foreign Fields", page 85.
  8. ^ Seamus J. King, "The Clash of the Ash on Foreign Fields", pages 97-98
  9. ^ Seamus J. King, "The Clash of the Ash on Foreign Fields", pages 85-127.
  10. ^ Seamus J. King, "The Clash of the Ash on Foreign Fields", page 129.
  11. ^ Seamus J. King, "The Clash of the Ash on Foreign Fields", Chapter 7, "Hurling in Argentina", pages 129-137
  12. ^ Seamus J. King, "The Clash of the Ash on Foreign Fields", page 139.
  13. ^ Seamus J. King, "The Clash of the Ash in Foreign Fields", pages 139-140.
  14. ^ Seamus J. King, "The Clash of the Ash in Foreign Fields, Chapter 9 "The Game in South Africa", pages 147-151.
  15. ^ Seamus J. King, "A History of Hurling", page 18.
  16. ^ From "The Islandman", by Tomas O'Crohan, pages 133-134.
  17. ^ Quoted in Seamus J. King's "A History of Hurling, page 25.
  18. ^ Humphrey O'Sullivan, "The Diary of an Irish Countryman", Mercier Press, 1979, Reissued 2007.

[edit] Further reading

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