U.S. soldiers spoke about their new found passion for the Irish traditional sport of hurling in a special documentary broadcast last night.
“Two fields, One Team” tells the story of a U.S. National Guard unit from Concord, New Hampshire and their affinity for hurling forged during their deployments to Iraq.
The Barley House Wolves Hurling Club first discovered the sport in 2005 while traveling through Shannon Airport after a year’s deployment in Iraq.
Lieutenant Colonel Ray Valas, of the New Hampshire National Guard watched the sport on an airport television.
“About a year later we came back through Shannon again for the morning refueling stop and I happened to see a little bit of a hurling match on a TV screen there by the bar, and a bunch of us said what is that sport?”
The group of soldiers liked what they saw and Colonel Valas thought of introducing the sport as a method of instilling comraderie among the National Guard after they returned from Iraq.
“2004, 2005 was a busy year in Iraq for us, as an infantry company on the ground, so we just felt really fortunate we wanted to keep that tie there, keep that bond,” according to Colonel Valas.
Upon their return to U.S. soil they began playing in the Junior C grade in the New Hampshire region. They have even competed at the U.S. National championships.
The Pentagon Channel (tPC) then decided to produce an exclusive half hour special on the unit and their love for hurling.
The fact that the history of hurling stems back to the Celtic warrior era was a good way to get the soldiers interested.
“Something with that resonated being soldiers and it made it easier to try and hook guys into it trying it out. It was the gut check, you say “this is a warriors sport, are you warrior or not?” says Colonel Valas.
First Sergeant Lore Ford admits at first he thought the sport was a big joke.
“I assumed I was going to get out there with a stick, get some pictures taken of me and was going to wind up in some paper or something, looking silly.”
The fact that the entire team were all beginners created an even footing which also helped the soldiers to bond on the pitch.
Getting the knack of this sport proved difficult to begin with but Colonel Valas explains the basics with such simplicity, and you would imagine he played the sport all his life.
“The basics of hurling is you have a ball called a sliotar, that’s about the size of a baseball, with raised seams, you have the stick which is called a Hurley, and the job is to put the sliotar through the uprights of the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar, passed for goalie for three points, which is called a goal. You can raise the ball off the ground with the stick, you can kick the ball to propel it forward, you just cannot throw it”
The Barley House Wolves Coach is Cork man Ruairi O’Mahoney who was impressed at the teams ability to pick up the Irish sport of precision.
“Coming from Ireland, everybody that does play hurling would pick it up at a young age.
“So for this bunch of guys, some of whom who are over 40, to take up this game is amazing and the commitment they have shown is something else,” he added.