The Boston GAA season kicks off this weekend but it will be a bunch of US Army soldiers playing the ancient game of hurling who will steal the show reports the Boston Globe.
Nine years ago en route home from Iraq during a stop in Shannon Airport a hurling game on the TV galvanized a group of New Hampshire National Guard veterans to take up the sport.
“We had no idea what we were looking at,” recalled Eddie Clements, one of the National Guard soldiers speaking to the Boston Globe.
“It was kind of like, ‘Hey, hurling, OK, what’s that? That looks pretty cool.’
“We were at the bar for an hour, maybe a little more, but that’s what sort of planted the seed.”
This was born the Barley House Wolves hurling team composed of ex American soldiers, called after the bar in Concord, New Hampshire, they drink in. The Boston GAA will pay them a special tribute on opening day.
“Our organization loves these guys,” John Cunningham, chairman of the Boston GAA, said. “We love everything about them.
“It’s their whole story, not just how they found the game, but their whole attitude toward hurling. They march on the field together. They warm up together. They never abuse the officials. They just play. They play it the right way, just the way you’d expect Army guys to play.”
Lieutenant Colonel Ray Valas watched the game that day in Shannon and saw a way to keep the unit together after they got home.
The team is now based in Concord, New Hampshire and has 45 active members and new recruits from local cops and firefighters.
“We’re surprised how much the American kids love it,” said Cunningham, 34.
“It’s a sport played ’round the world — Dubai, Asia, all over. We’ll see an Asian kid running around here with his little Irish shirt on, and that’s great. Everyone plays. It’s the solace of the sport."
“We’ve got Guard guys, police officers, firefighters . . . and I’d say the majority of us still today have a current or prior military affiliation,” said Clements.
“So there’s always that feeling out there, that military guys understand military guys. And we absolutely love to play.”