Hurlacrosse - The next generation in hybrid sport
By David Wogan
How do you grow the hurling community in North America? That is the question I ask myself on a daily basis. My name is David Wogan and I’m from Dublin. I moved to North America in 2011, and in 2014 I started PlayHurling.com , an online network that aims to build the Hurling and Camogie community in North America.
Hurling has been my passion and my sport since I was 6 years old. But, as I was explaining hurling to North Americans, lacrosse kept on coming up as the comparative sport. They're both fast-paced field sports. They’re both warrior sports. They’re both ancient games steeped in culture. I’d never heard of lacrosse before I moved abroad, but the constant mention of the sport triggered my curiosity.
I reached out to the University of Toronto lacrosse team in the hopes of getting the two sports together. We collaborated on a video for the Play Hurling YouTube channel, where they tried hurling for the first time. They loved it and it was clear that some of their skills translated directly over to hurling.
Immediately after I published this video, Tony Devine from Ireland Lacrosse reached out to me and said, “Why don't we combine the two sports and call it ‘Hurlacrosse’?” Tony had participated in the world’s first Hurlacrosse match at Queen’s University in Belfast in 2009 hosted by Siobhan Caroll, an Irish Women's Lacrosse Player. Siobhan had played lacrosse in America before coming back home to Ireland. Tony had been pitching this concept ever since.
As with any great idea, I sat on it for a couple of years. I wasn’t sure where to begin. In the meantime, I moved to California and joined the OC Wild Geese. Being the open-minded team that they are, I decided to bring up this crazy idea of Hurlacrosse, and they got very excited about it. We decided to go for it.
When I first proposed the idea of Hurlacrosse to other people, I was faced with a lot of scepticism. People feared there would be too many injuries, broken sticks, and that somehow it would erupt into chaos. The obvious challenge was to develop clear-cut rules that were fair to both sports. There were so many considerations: What kind of ball would be used? How many players would be on the field? Would there be contact? If so, how much? How would people score?
Tony sent me an initial draft of rules that was used in their Belfast match, and I added my ideas to it. Then Tony and I started reaching out to local Californian lacrosse teams. We pitched the hybrid sport to more than 30 of our connections. I even got connected with the CEO of the US Lacrosse Foundation, who was very much in favour of this new game. Eventually, I was connected to Rich Carter, the coach of Team Eire lacrosse. Rich was thrilled by the concept and gathered a lacrosse team to fly to Los Angeles to play against the OC Wild Geese.
We were officially hosting North America's first Hurlacrosse match! I started planning the logistics of the event and posting about it on the Play Hurling Facebook page. Jakob Feldmann of Darmstadt GAA saw my posts and reached to me about a Hurlacrosse event he hosted in Germany. Jakob shared some incredible photos of their event and his own set of rules he had worked on. I became fascinated seeing my vision come to life - it wasn’t theory anymore. I was over the moon to see that it worked! That, and to hear the stories from Jakob on the success he had with it.
Jakob, Tony, and I decided to combine our 3 variations of rules to use for the match in Los Angeles, and all Hurlacrosse matches going forward.
Hurlacrosse Rules Overview
- Teams: Two teams, with 10 players each.
- Goalkeepers switch teams, i.e., Lacrosse 'keeper plays with hurling team and vice versa.
- Unlimited Substitutions
- Lacrosse: Six steps maximum with the ball in the pocket
- Hurlers: 2x periods of four steps with the ball in the hand
- Tackles: Shoulder to shoulder only, hip to hip tackles are not allowed
- Only upward stick contact is permitted
- Timing: 2x15 minute halves
- Ball: Size four Camogie sliotar
- Wrap around area behind the 16.5m line is called the "Ex"
- Goals and points can be scored from the front, points only from the back (Ex)
- Frees: Hurling free hit as normal, lacrosse, ball is thrown
The comprehensive set of rules can be found on www.hurlacrosse.com/rules
Hurlacrosse in Los Angeles
On November 3rd, 2018, we hosted North America's first Hurlacrosse match in Los Angeles as part of Ireland Week. Before the match began, I made sure to let both teams know that the aim of this game wasn’t for one sport to be proven better than the other. It was about demonstrating the athletes' abilities in both sports and to help grow both communities.
We switched goalkeepers to emphasise that we were all equal clubs and athletes. From the moment the match began, the two sports flowed surprisingly perfectly together. The fast-paced nature of each sport elevated the skill level of both hurlers and lacrosse players. The juxtaposition between roll lifting and scooping, striking vs. throwing, and soloing vs. cradling was unlike any game I had seen before. It was impressive to both play in and to watch. This hybrid game elevated the best parts of each sport. Skill level wise, it was an equally matched game, which kept the audience on their toes until the final whistle blew.
Despite both sports being quite physical, there were no fights and no bad fouls on the day of the match. Everyone was there to showcase the sport that they loved and have a good time, and it showed.
What does the future hold for Hurlacrosse?
Hurling is a true athlete’s sport. It’s an important symbol of Irish pride and history, that can also be enjoyed by athletes from all over the world. People can bring their previous sporting experiences to it, alongside those who have played it from childhood.
This Hurlacrosse match connects sporting communities from across the world by pitting hurling against a sport that is native to North America. It pulls in the attention of a brand new audience. It demonstrates the positive impact on both hurling and lacrosse have on their communities and attract crowds from all walks of life.
Based on the success of our match, it was clear that this game could be adapted anywhere. Its focus on teamwork, sportsmanship, and camaraderie between these two great sports felt like an excellent framework that could rolled out with GAA clubs worldwide.
On August 2nd 2019, we’ll be hosting a Hurlacrosse match at the finals' day of the Renault GAA World Games in Croke Park. If you’d like to watch these two ancient, yet modern, sports battle it out, I invite you to come and watch history be made!
If you’re interested in hosting a Hurlacrosse match in your area, go to Hurlacrosse.com for the full set of rules.