It’s black, it’s white, and it’s fast becoming an epidemic that threatens to engulf the whole of the hurling world — it’s the Cúltec hurley.
From what first started as the humble brainchild of former hurlers Tom Wright and John Brennan, Cúltec has blossomed into an astounding success story for these two lovers of the ancient field game.
After identifying a niche in the market for a synthetic hurley in 2002, Tom and John began formulating designs in their humble garages in Ferbane, Co Offaly. Over the next six years, they gradually developed a phenomenon which is radicalising the image of the formerly monotonous hurling equipment scene.
“We started selling Cúltecs in the spring of 2008 after six years of design and development,” says John Grehan, co-founder of Cúltec. A former engineering manager in Birr, John teamed up with Tom Wright, a retired secondary school vice-principal and fellow hurling fanatic, to work on their vision.
Fast-forward four years, and the company has evolved exponentially, along with its sales figures.
“We’re only in our fourth year of selling and we hope to sell maybe 25,000, having sold only 800 in 2008. We’d estimate that there are 20,000 people using our hurls at the moment,” says John.
John paints a clear picture of Cúltec’s rapidly expanding target market: “12-16 year olds are the biggest market for us. That said, we sell hurls to all age groups nationwide really.
“Dublin is a stronghold for us but we’ve also got the traditional hurling counties coming on board now such as Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny.
“There’s also big demand internationally for the product. There’s a big market in Australia for us and the same in the States, the reason being that the Cúltec hurl doesn’t dry out in the adverse climates they’re used to as a conventional ash hurl might,” says the Faithful County entrepreneur.
Despite Cúltec’s success, the evolution of synthetic hurleys has been a slow and painful process.
Building company Wavin’s original stab at producing a synthetic hurley in the 1970s turned out to be an ill-fated venture.
The much-maligned plastic camán seemed a revolutionary step, but it soon became apparent that its tendency to send bone-shuddering vibrations through the arm of its user coupled with its capability to severely injure an opponent meant that such progress had to be put on the back-burner.
As opposed to its forebear, the Chinese-manufactured Cúltec hurley has met rigorous safety testing standards set out by the GAA. Made from a composite of synthetic epoxy, nylon and some graphite, it has won acclaim for its robust nature, as well as the exceptionally large sweet spot on its bás which allows for longer and more consistent striking of the sliothar.
Although an adult Cúltec hurley retails for €40 (roughly €12 more than its ash counterpart), its reputation for breaking under only the most extreme of forces gives it a longevity that’s hard to match. This characteristic, amongst others, has seen it win favour among some of the luminaries of intercounty hurling in recent years such as Dublin’s Ryan O’Dwyer and Kilkenny’s David Herity.
According to GAA estimates, somewhere in the region of 360,000 to 400,000 hurleys are purchased annually.
However, with traditional ash resources at an all-time low in Ireland, hurley makers are increasingly having to import the wood from further afield, central and eastern Europe in particular — so much so that only about 25% of ash for hurleys is sourced indigenously.
Some traditionalists have expressed reservations about the Cúltec hurley. But love it or loathe it, the product is here to stay.