Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness Challenge: Give it an Irish hurl

Each week Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the lowdown

Rachel Grunwell takes on the ancient gaelic sport of Hurling. Photo / Getty Images
Rachel Grunwell takes on the ancient gaelic sport of Hurling. Photo / Getty Images

Hurling (called Camogie when women play)

What is it? This one's from Ireland and boasts a mix of baseball, hockey and lacrosse in one full-on, full-speed contact field sport.

What's needed? Hurling stick (about $70), ball ($20), helmet (similar to what a hockey keeper wears, $130).

The experience: To celebrate the Irish and St Patrick's Day, the Living magazine editor suggests hurling for this column.

I think she expects me to say "I will yeah" (which is the Irish way of saying "I definitely won't") because she remarks that I'm "brave" for taking up the challenge.

After all, axe-shaped sticks and a hard leather ball are involved. If a player (accidentally) hits me with their best shot, then teeth cost a teensy bit to replace. Perhaps this guinea pig should request danger money.

But seriously, I dig trying new things and especially where the Irish are involved. Even when they swear I love the sound of their accent (and I'm not let down - I hear "jaysis" at least once or twice during the session). Or was that me swearing after a ball became bullet-like, whizzing the entire length of the field after being belted by a burly bloke ...

I'm with the Auckland-based hurling club at Mt Eden Normal Intermediate School's grounds (they meet at different Auckland locations) after harassing player Liam O'Keeffe into kindly letting me hang out with them.

Liam and his crew are more than happy to get some publicity for their sport. They're keen to grow their small numbers (40 players) and they want to encourage new members to join; you don't have to have Irish ancestry. Heck, if they'll put up with me they ain't kidding.

When I arrive at the school field it's fierce wet weather (the Irish like to call pretty much everything fierce). But then it's soon "quare" warm - the sunshine pushes its way through the clouds and it's suddenly another glorious day.

We kick off with practice drills. I learn how to whack the ball, biff it in the air, run with it on the stick (we look like we're competing in a giant egg-and-spoon race) and, importantly, the rules, which include some of the following: you can catch the ball in the air, pass it with the hand, strike the ball on the ground, carry the ball in hand a maximum of four steps, and also balance the ball on the stick. There's two opposing teams and players aim to shoot the ball over the crossbar (that's one point), or shoot into the net (three points). And it's all well and good to shoulder shove (as long as it's shoulder-to-shoulder) some other player out of the way if you want the ball off them.

We then play a friendly game. I get to give the ball a good whack, but mostly I'm in awe of the experienced players. There's a reason why this is dubbed "the fastest game on grass": The ball is in the sky one second, then speeding fast on a stick the length of the field. It's like the player is rocket-propelled.

It's mind chess just keeping track of the ball with my eyeballs.

Even Liam, who has played the game "since a young fulla", remarks "this game is full on". But it's safe, too: competitive players wear head-gear.

It looks good fun for all, and incredible for fitness. It's a thrill to see 3000 years of Irish sporting heritage being kept alive.

How much? It's free! The club wants new players and doesn't want anything to stand in the way of anyone giving it a go.

Worth it? If you like games that are fast and furious then you'll have a whale of a time. It's great for speed, agility, co-ordination, reaction time, strength, power, aerobic and anaerobic endurance.

Try it: Come along (16 years plus) and check out the next hurling session: April 7, 2pm, Fowlds Park, Mt Albert, or contact pro@aucklandgaa.co.nz

Rating: 9/10

- Herald on Sunday

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