Friday, June 27, 2014

Dublin Hurling in the Leinster Final! (What?)

After a year in Ireland, we've decided that hurling is our preferred Gaelic sport. This ancient game is like field hockey, but the ball is shot through the air rather than on the ground. It also has the Gaelic game advantage of multiple ways to score. Unlike soccer with one very difficult and well-guarded goal, Gaelic sport players (hurlers, Gaelic footballers, and women's hurling camogie-ers?) can score in a soccer-like goal or by putting the ball through American football-like goalposts high in the air.

The balls in the lower goal are called, unsurprisingly, goals, the balls shot between the uprights are called points. Goals are worth three points, points are worth one point. Got all that? No? Here's a primer.

The game has a number of interesting traditions and special rules, but we have a good handle on the structure and function of the game itself. What we are still grappling with is the structure of the All-Ireland league and who is playing what and when and where and at what time?

The GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) handles not just the top-tier All-Ireland leagues, but several tiers of junior leagues, all of which get coverage and promotion from the same body. This is great for these other leagues, and seasoned GAA fans know immediately the abbreviations and terms like AI, U-21, Allianz League, Interprovincial Championship, and Shinty/Hurling International Senior. We are not so skilled in deciphering the complex nomenclature of all these leagues yet.

Imagine if the NFL integrated schedules and coverage of high school and college football under the same umbrella. How difficult would it be for a foreigner to find the time and place of the NFC Chicago/Green Bay game when there might be six other Chicago/Green Bay football games scheduled on the same weekend?

...Back to hurling, after a long early season of club play (?) and intracounty play (?) we have entered the All-Ireland stage, where we can finally see simple matchups like Co. Wexford and Co. Dublin in the top-tier playoffs. And Wexford/Dublin was exactly the match we were looking to see on a recent weekend.

These two were playing in the Leinster semi final to qualify for the Leinster final. Leinster (LINN-ster) is one of the four ancient provinces of Ireland. The GAA uses these handy geographic regions to separate sub-leagues, like the AFC West or NL East. Winner of Wexford/Dublin would face the winner of Galway/Kilkenny for the Leinster title.

We popped over to a Donnybrook pub to catch the action, with cool hand-knit scarves in Dublin colors courtesy of Sara.

Smithwicks and Dublin scarves for Hurling
Beers and Scarves

Dublin beat Wexford handily 0-22 to 1-14. What? Right, they list scores not in total score, but in [number of goals]-[number of points]. Just like American football lists scores [number of touchdowns]-[number of extra points]-[number of two-point conversions]-[number of field goals]-[number of safeties], right? Fans like us are left to do the math. Dublin's zero goals and 22 points beats Wexford's 1 goal (worth 3) and 14 points.

...Ok, the score was 22-17 Dublin.

So who would Dublin play in the Leinster final? The Galway/Kilkenny deciding game was the next weekend, and what a game it was! Galway/Kilkenny played to a draw- listed like this: Galway 5-16, 3-22 Kilkenny. Do the math and we get to a 31-31 tie.

The GAA seems to embrace ties like the rest of the non-American sports world, and lets the draw stand! Except, this is a qualifying match, we need a winner. Maybe the GAA likes money more than ties, so they go to a rematch, with another stadium to sell out!

This year, we weren't surprised. After all, the All-Ireland hurling final went to a rematch last year, much to our shock as we watched the pub empty at the final whistle. Overtime is bad business. Maybe the NFL will take a page from the GAA. Tie in the Super Bowl? No problem, play it again a few weeks later! Sell more commercial time and more $500+ tickets!

Snark aside, the replay of the Galway/Kilkenny match will be June 28 at 7:00 p.m. Ireland time (EDT +5 hours), and we'll be following to see who Dublin will take on in the Leinster final in July!

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