Friday, September 27, 2013

All-Ireland Hurling Final- It's a Draw!

After our trip to Phoenix Park, we moved on to our real objective of the day:  The Hurling Final.

Be aware that I am (intentionally) writing this based solely on anecdotal observations after watching one match.  I will be watching and reading a lot more about this game, but for now, I am recording my knee-jerk, ignorant reactions.

Hurling is a fast-moving, high-scoring field game played and enthusiastically enjoyed here in Ireland.  In 90's America, hurling had a much different meaning, but I quickly got hooked on the game after a quick chuckle.

The game is played on a large field (pitch) with a small ball and goals at each end.  The goals have two parts: the lower goal with a net and a goal-tender like a soccer goal and the upper goal with uprights rising like goal posts in American football.  Points are scored in the game by getting the ball into either the lower goal for three points or through the upper goal posts for one point.

The players move the ball with their hands and short sticks with slightly curled, flat batting surfaces called "hurlies."

A hurley and hurling ball in Dublin, Ireland
A Hurley

The ball can be batted, carried, or thrown around the field.  The ball can not be picked up with hands from the ground, but rather scooped up with the hurley.  Once in the hands, the ball can be carried for a brief time (not sure how many steps without looking up the rules, but remember- I'm not looking up the rules here) or carried on the flat end of the hurley indefinitely, or until it gets knocked away by an opposing player.

With these passes and carries the ball is sent up and down the pitch by the opposing teams.  When the ball gets within striking range of the goal, players can take a low-risk shot high in the air for one point or try to take on the goalie and defensemen for three points in the lower goal.  When a player is fouled, a penalty shot is awarded at the point of the foul- much like soccer.  Many of the points scored in this particular game happened to be from penalties awarded close enough to whack the ball through the high goal.

Interestingly, the game is played strictly by amateurs in Ireland.  Each player has a day job in addition to the intense training and match schedule of the hurling season.  When player stats are shown, their regular occupation is shown with their height, age, and weight.  Cool!

This final featured the teams from County Clare and County Cork facing off for the championship cup.  We arrived in Ireland during the playoffs of this game, but didn't get a chance to watch a match until the final.  Cork was favored and had many more final wins in its history than did Clare, so we decided to back the underdogs with the other people at our table at the sports bar.

Earlier in the day, we collected county flags from both sides that had fallen from inbound cars.  We got our drinks, got out our flags, and we were ready for the match.

Two flags, red and white for Cork and blue and gold for Clare, sit with two pints of Guinness during the first All-Ireland Hurling Final 2013 in Dublin, Ireland
Red and White for Cork, Blue and Gold for Clare
The game score went back and forth through much of the first and second halves.  Very few 3-point goals were scored, most points were sent high through the uprights.  The game is timed, but the clock runs much like a soccer match: continuously.  Out-of-bounds plays, fouls, injuries, everything is conducted with the clock running.  This leads to one of the most baffling parts of continuous clock games for Americans: injury time.  Football, basketball, and ice hockey fans are used to watching the final seconds tick down (even going to tenths of a second!) until the final buzzer rings, signaling the end of time- no matter what.  These games can do that because the clock stops when the action stops.  Football clocks stop at an incomplete pass, basketball on any turnover, and hockey for penalties and scores.  The continuous clock games keep the clock ticking through these dead times, giving way to injury time. This is special time added to the clock at the end of the first and second half.  The problem (to my eyes at least) is that how much injury time is allowed is subjective.  They may say two minutes will be added, but even then the whistle doesn't blow at 2:00.  The officials will stop the game... when they feel like stopping the game.

This reared its (ugly to me) head at the end of the match.  Clare was leading going to the end of regulation.  Cork tied the match just before the end of regulation and we went to injury time.  Near the end of injury time (two minutes, they said), Cork scored the go-ahead (winning?) point.  Clare put the ball in play and the injury time two minutes passed, but no whistle.  The Cork fans in the bar were screaming for the game to end, but they kept playing.  Clare put up an insanely long shot and tied the score well after two minutes.  Cork threw the ball in after the tying score, and then  the whistles blew.  The officials must have felt like giving Clare one more go to get the game tied, no matter the time.  There isn't anything in the rules about this- it's just what feels right.

When the game ended with a tie, we sat in anticipation of how they would determine a winner.  A period of overtime?  Penalty shots?  Sudden death first-to-score wins?  Bare-knuckle fist fights between team captains?  Something else we hadn't seen during the game?  We were surprised to see the bar start to clear out.  Weren't these passionate fans going to stay for the result?  On the screen, players were leaving the field and the television crews were catching coaches for post-game interviews.  The game was over- it's a draw.

We didn't know this at the moment, but a draw in a hurling final leads to a rematch several weeks later (Update: September 28th, 2013).  We genuinely thought that they were just going to have two champions after such a frustrating ending by the officials.  It was a very exciting game once we got the hang of the scoring, and we can't wait to see the next match that will (?) determine a final winner.  Next summer, we are certainly going to go to a few matches, hopefully we'll get to see the County Dublin side in action before the playoffs.

After the match and the excitement, we stopped by a small chipper joint for the best fish and chips we've had since arriving in Dublin.  Definitely a grand day out.

Two servings of fish and chips with lemons and malt vinegar in Dublin, Ireland


  1. The time added is subjective.. If the ref feels it was an even game he will, within reason give the team down by a point a chance to level up.. Very Irish

  2. The time added is subjective.. If the ref feels it was an even game he will, within reason give the team down by a point a chance to level up.. Very Irish


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