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Hurling - General Guide

Hurling is a stick-and-ball game exclusive to parts of Ireland; its nearest relatives would be shinty in parts of Scotland, and hockey. Neither of these sports have more than a passing similarity to hurling, although a number of hurling-shinty matches, under a set of compromise rules, have been played by teams from Ireland and Scotland in recent years. A basic guide to understanding hurlling follows.

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1. The pitch: a large rectangular field.
2. The stick: called a hurley or hurl, a curved piece of ash.
3. The ball: called a 'sliotar', small and firm, about the size of a medium orange; a leather cover over a fibre-wrapped core.
4. The score: comprises both points and goals, a goal being equal to three points. Scores are obtained by propelling the sliotar with stick, foot or palm, over (for a point) or under (for a goal) the cross-section of the H-shaped goal, and between the upright posts.
5. The team: 15 on each side, which traditionally line out as follows, with numbers:

1

Goalkeeper

.

2

Right Corner Back

3

Full Back

4

Left Corner Back

.

5

Right Half Back

6

Centre Back

7

Left Half Back

.

8

Centre Field

9

Centre Field

.

10

Right Half Forward

11

Centre Forward

12

Left Half Forward

.

13

Right Corner Forward

14

Full Forward

15

Left Corner Forward

 
Up to three players may be replaced during the course of the game by replacements from the bench ; it is usual to name six possible replacements at the beginning.

6. Control: One referee, assisted by two linesman (touch judges) and four umpires, two at each goal, control the flag. The umpires' function is to signal scores or wides.
7. The play: the referee starts the match by throwing the ball between the four players at the centre. The ball may be struck, kicked, caught (in one hand only), or delivered with a smack of the open hand; it may NOT be thrown. This flexibility gives the game a speed and excitement that is noticeably absent from a ground-only game such as hockey. A good deal of physical contact is tolerated, but deliberately striking another player with the stick is always an offence. A goal-keeper has some protection as long as he stays within his goal area, but if he leaves this he is no more favoured than any other player. A very distinctive feature of the game is called 'soloing', where a player balances the sliotar on the wide part ('bas') of the hurley, and runs with it balanced on the stick for an unrestricted distance as opposition players try to dispossess him. Play lasts for either 60 or 70 minutes depending on the status of the match, with the referee also acting as timekeeper. After a score or wide, play is re-started by a player, usually the goalkeeper, 'pucking out' : driving the ball from the hand into the centre of the pitch. When the ball escapes over the sideline it is driven back into play off the ground; this is known as a sideline 'cut'. The linesman's function is to place the sliotar for this, and to nominate which team is to take it, the side that last touched the ball in play surrendering the cut to the other.
8. Where played: The game is largely confined to Ireland, with pockets in Britain and the U.S.A., played by Irish emigrants. Within Ireland, it is strongest in a number of counties, notably Cork, Tipperary, Clare, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford, Offaly, Galway and Antrim. Outside those areas it is present to a varying degree in the other counties. The sport is entirely amateur with players playing and training entirely in their spare time. 
9. History: Hurling is a game of antiquity; there are records of a form of the game in iron-age times. There may have originally been two types of hurling, a summer game on hard ground similar to modern hurling, and a winter game on soft ground, where the ball was mostly played along the ground, and whose modern descendant is shinty. The rules were formalised and standardised after the setting up of the Gaelic Athletic Association by Michael Cusack in 1884.

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