The Irish sport of hurling is the oldest, fastest and most aggressive team sport that you’ve likely never heard of.
The earliest known reference to hurling is found in an account of the 1272 B.C. Battle of Moytura, in which the two armies played a stick-and-ball sport against each other before going into battle. Now, a full 3,289 years after that first mention, hurling is finally taking root in Virginia, with club teams established in both Richmond and Hampton Roads, and a 20-team mid-Atlantic tournament being held in mid-July in Virginia Beach.
“I love the physicality of hurling. It’s a stress reliever,” says Niall Duffy, the 44-year-old head coach of the Richmond Battery hurling team, part of the mid-Atlantic division of the U.S. Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Duffy is soft-spoken but confident, originally from Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, and is the owner of Two and a Half Irish Men baking company in Richmond.
Duffy moved to Richmond in 2014 and the Richmond Battery GAA team was formed that same year (Duffy didn’t join until later on). Duffy’s friend and teammate, Patrick Moran, 47, a Richmond attorney who is originally from upstate New York, was among the earliest Battery members and is now the club chairman. The team has 48 members and approximately 36 regular players, aged 16 to 63. The majority of the Richmond hurlers are Americans.
“Every American picks it up like a baseball bat,” says Moran. “But the grip is reversed and the swing is more of a snap, like a golf swing.” Still, Moran says, the barrier to entry is low and the basics can be learned quickly. “I started this just over two years ago and I was crap. But just being able to hit the ball once … it’s something so cathartic that, if it’s in your blood, you’ll take to it.”