DUBAI // It is said to be the world's fastest field game, and as Irish as shamrock. But in Safa Park, young men and women of non-Gaelic backgrounds have been picking up the ash to clash in their first competitive matches. Members of the Jumeirah College hurling team turned out yesterday for the Gulf Gaelic Games to take on teams from Dubai and the Gulf, as well as Singapore and Ireland.
The team, which started playing less than five months ago, took on teams who had been playing since the age of five. "They never picked up a hurl [the axe-shaped ash stick used to pick up the sliotar, or ball] before but now they are of a great standard considering their experience so far," said Danny Cotterell, 26, a former county player from Kilkenny. "They are competing against local Gulf teams and an Irish team, and they should be well able for it," he added. "It is one of the games with the most range of skills needed. It can be the father-figure of baseball, lacrosse, hockey, tennis and golf."
Connor Gladwin, 16, from Britain, got the same words of encouragement heard across playing fields in Ireland. "Two hands on the hurl," shouted Mr Cotterell. "We had to start from scratch. They had no idea of it. Some of them would have seen it on TV or the internet but they have come such a long way in such a short time." Mr Gladwin said after his 45- minute training session earlier this week: "It is so much more physically demanding and needs a lot of quick thinking. It's more tactical and there is a lot of movement as well as contact with other players."
Injuries are part of the sport and helmets are now mandatory. Another player, Konner Vanderpol, 18, started playing four months ago. "I like the contact in it," he said. "It is so fast and the makes me want to keep playing it and improving. If I go to university in the UK, I'll find a team and keep playing it." Mr Cotterell said: "When you pick up the hurl, you are hooked. You can always play and when you pick up a hurl even after a long time, the feeling comes back."
Brian Gavigan, 16, from Britain, started at the same time as his team mates. "There is so much going on at the same time on the pitch. It is far better than soccer or rugby," he said. There is a team from Singapore taking part, as is Thurles Sarsfields, one of the top Irish teams. A team of women have flown in from Ireland to play camogie, the women's variant of hurling. Gaelic games have been part of expatriate life in the UAE for more than 20 years. The Irish inter-provincial hurling final took place in Abu Dhabi last year.