They may have caught your eye on some late night television programme. Or if you have spent a summer’s weekend in Ireland between May and September, when hurling and Gaelic football are in high season, you will already have a sense of their cherished status and elevated position in the life of the nation. But maybe it’s best to assume nothing and introduce the games to you as strangers.
The games of hurling and Gaelic football are very different though they have some fundamentals in common. Both are played by 15-man teams: a goalkeeper, six defenders, six attackers and two midfielders, arranged in a positional grid that corresponds to numbers on their shirts.
The scoring system is the same in both games, too. The goalposts are similar to rugby goalposts, except that the crossbar is lower. A shot that goes over the crossbar is worth a point and one that goes under – a goal – is worth three points. The minimum size of a GAA pitch is 30 metres longer than a rugby pitch and 10 metres wider.
The differences between hurling and Gaelic football, however, are much greater and more striking than their similarities. Hurling is a stick and ball game which has claims to be Europe’s oldest field game and the world's fastest field sport. Various literary references from ancient texts would appear to show that hurling – in some form – is at least 2,000 years old.For anybody seeing hurling for the first time it is a blitz to the senses. In tone, it is more like ice hockey than field hockey. The ball moves at a frenetic pace and there are very few restrictions on how the ball can be played.