Coach Tim Fick is reviving the ancient game of Gaelic Hurling at IU.
His interest in the 3000-year-old sport, which Fick calls “the mother of all stick and ball games,” began in 1991 during a trip to Ireland to explore his Irish roots. He said he remembers watching from the stands as an injured player ran off the hurling field with blood on his face and teeth missing, beaming with joy despite his injuries.
“I was fascinated by the passion, the speed of it,” he said.
Fick and his friend Steven Quigley started IU’s Gaelic Hurling club five years ago. The two played in an Indianapolis hurling club together for several years.
Fick said several of the players joined the team to get in touch with their Irish roots, although team members come from various ethnic backgrounds.
“It’s part of Irish culture and history,” he said. “It was a real important sport during the struggle for independence from the British. Irish nationalists wanted to instill pride in young Irish men and women, and they started the GAA and revived the sport.”
The GAA, or Gaelic Athletic Association, is based in Ireland and includes sports such as football, rounders and hurling. The United States has branches of the GAA based in cities such as Boston, Chicago, and Detroit.
Freshman Tom Roach played rugby in high school but found rugby practices took up too much of his time when he came to IU. The hurling team’s schedule was more flexible.
“We just hit around once a day, about an hour, so it’s a lot easier to maintain,” he said. “We spend it hitting around, doing drills if we have enough people.”
He said he was introduced to Gaelic Hurling while in Ireland on a high school trip but decided he preferred rugby. However, he has enjoyed playing in the Hurling Rec Sports club at IU.
“It’s 3000-years-old, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot different from rugby,” he said. “It plays like lacrosse and field hockey.”
The team plays about four invitational games a semester, Fick said. Because Purdue University and Middle Tennessee State University are the only other universities in the area with Gaelic Hurling teams, there is not much opportunity to compete during the year.
The IU hurlers will play in the National Collegiate GAA championship tournament at Purdue during Memorial Day weekend. Fick said IU won the championship two years ago only to lose the title to Purdue last year. Half a dozen players from the first championship team will play for IU this year, he said, and they want to win again and take the national championship title away from Purdue.
Although Gaelic Hurling has gained popularity in the last decade, particularly in large cities, Fick said, it has been slow to gain a following on college campuses. The National Collegiate Gaelic Athletic Association contains a total of 26 teams.
“It’s never made it out of the big Irish communities such as Boston and Chicago, except in the last ten years,” he said. “A lot of big cities have been forming clubs.”
Fick said he hopes to see the sport’s popularity increase on college campuses.
“There’s something very elemental about just hitting a leather ball with a wooden stick. It just feels good,” he said. “I want to share that with college kids, and I’d love to see the sport take off.”