This weekend, the UNC Irish Sports Club will not only attend, but also host the National Collegiate Hurling Championship on its home turf.
Back up — what the heck is hurling? First, I strongly suggest Googling a video of a hurling match because that will do the sport much more justice than the description I will now attempt to provide. Hurling is the fast-paced stick-and-ball game somewhat akin to field hockey and lacrosse. Hurling is known as “the fastest sport on grass” and is believed to be the world’s oldest field game.
“The best way to understand the sport is to see it played, so I often direct people to come out and watch. Usually, when I first tell people about it, I get ‘Curling?’ or ‘Is that the Scottish competition where you throw things?’ The best way to recruit has always been to get a hurley (the hurling stick with which the sport is played) into peoples' hands. It's unusual, a bit tricky, but instantly, incredibly fun” said Seamus Holland, UNC Irish Sport Club's president .
Despite being invited the previous year, UNC has not had enough players able to travel to championships in the past.
“With us hosting this year, we will be able to field what I believe will be the strongest hurling team UNC has ever had,” junior Eric Leonard said.
This weekend marks the ninth National Collegiate Hurling Championship, a competition which will feature 11 schools comprising a total of nine teams — more than were present at any of the past eight national championship tournaments, Holland said. Excited by the increasing competition, Holland says this weekend’s tournament speaks to the growth of the sport in the past decade and to its future potential.
Led by coach Ciaran Harris, the team held extra practices and adopted an innovative gym regimen to prepare for the weekend tournament. The team anticipates stiff competition from the visiting clubs and veteran teams of University of Connecticut, Purdue University and the University of Montana, many of which UNC has never faced. However, of the away teams, UNC’s Irish Sports Club has squared up and won against Virginia Tech and The Citadel at a tournament in South Carolina last semester.
Though they are championship-bound, this by no means is a team solely comprised of Irish hurling prodigies. While a handful of members do come from Irish and Gaelic backgrounds, many picked up the sport out of sheer curiosity and ran with it.
“We've got some real talent on the team, as well as a few new players who picked up the sport last semester who look great as well," junior club member Alton Gayton said.
In addition to its athletic achievement, the team also functions as a club that celebrates the local Irish community. UNC’s Irish Sports Club marches in the Raleigh St. Patrick’s Day Parade every year, attends traditional music festivals, designs their own uniforms and is currently working to spread Irish culture in the Chapel Hill area by arranging a weekly “Trad Night” where a Chapel Hill pub would host live Irish music. Also, to hype everyone up for this weekend’s events, the Varsity Theatre on Franklin is showing "The Game: The Story of Hurling," a documentary on the game of hurling, Saturday evening.
“The community around the Gaelic sports in the U.S. is one of the most welcoming I have been in. Even though I might stand out visually in a crowd of Irishmen, they have always treated me as family” Gayton said.
When asked what we can expect if UNC walks away with a national hurling natty this weekend, club president Seamus Holland answered, “I anticipate a full, 20-person Franklin Street rush.”
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