I almost hate to bring up this topic around John “Required Shoulder Surgery After Walking His Dog” Cole, but Slate had an article for those who think lacrosse isn’t quite risky enough:
Imagine you’re sprinting down a 160-yard field. As you run, you balance a tiny ball—small as a hockey puck, hard as a baseball—on the end of your stick, as in lacrosse. Except where the lacrosse stick has a woven pocket, your stick has a flat, wooden blade, and where lacrosse requires protective gear you wear neither pads nor gloves. Now imagine that your opponents are waving these same axe-like cudgels. They are coming at you from all sides, hoping to hook you from behind or block you from the front. You race down the gigantic field while considering your options. You could pass to a teammate, either with a slap of the bare hand or with a kick. No one is open, though, so you prepare to take a shot—never mind that you’re still 100 yards out from the goal. You lean back and swing hard, like a baseball player at bat, feeling the satisfying reverb in your arms as you connect with the ball.
Now imagine you’re the goalkeeper preparing to block this shot. Though it’s coming from the far side of the field, that dense, little ball is a terrifying force, as hurling balls have been clocked at speeds nearing 100 miles per hour. And there you are, standing in a giant goal without any padding, preparing to either catch this ball-turned-ordnance with one, ungloved hand, or deflect it with your stick. All the while, the goal-hungry opposition descends on you like a swarm of bees.
Such is the job of the goalkeeper in hurling, a sport famous for its speed and the bravery (or lunacy) of its participants. Known as the fastest field sport on earth, hurling predates Christianity and is native to Ireland, possibly originating with the Celts. Two teams of 15 players compete to score the most points by hitting the ball, called a sliotar, between the opposing team’s goalposts. While rugby-style tackling is prohibited, hockey-style body checks and shoulder charges are common. As in soccer, a player can shoot from anywhere on the field, including directly in front of the goal, and directly at the goalkeeper. One point is earned for a ball that flies between the posts but over the crossbar, while three are awarded for a goal scored underneath the crossbar, where the goalkeeper stands, a kamikaze in shorts and a jersey.
Hurling is a thrilling and dangerous sport, and in Ireland the players are universally admired for their nerves. Within this pool, it is the goalkeepers who are most venerated. “A key requirement to be a goalkeeper in hurling is that you have to be mad,” says Feargal McGill, head of games administration and player welfare for hurling’s governing body, the Gaelic Athletic Association.* […]
It’s that asterick really ties the room together:
Corrections, April 13, 2011: This article also originally misspelled the first name of an administrator for the Gaelic Athletic Association. He is Feargal McGill, not Feral McGill.
Yeah, that’s an easy mistake to overlook in context.
NB: The women’s version of the game is known as camogie (from the Gaelic “little stick”), and is played with slightly smaller balls.