Super Eleven can fulfil American dream for GAA

The home of the famed University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana was an unlikely venue for a piece of hurling history over the weekend.

Super Eleven can fulfil American dream for GAA

Hurling is an unique spectacle and its power, passion and skill has the capacity to attract a worldwide audience.

Now the GAA/GPA have looked at internationalising hurling and winning new supporters by introducing a form of the game that will travel globally.

Super Eleven is the result of their work.

Teams comprise of 11 players and the dimensions conform in size to a normal soccer or lacrosse pitch. The availability of GAA pitches worldwide is a resource that most overseas hurling clubs struggle to achieve.

But there are lacrosse pitches across the United States and soccer pitches throughout the world that can easily double as Super Eleven pitches.

On Saturday in the Arlotta Stadium, the home of lacrosse in Notre Dame, teams representing the Munster and Leinster Championships served up a tremendous game of power, passion and skill.

It was enthusiastically received by spectators. Many emigrants, involved in hurling clubs in the USA, were hugely impressed with the spectacle.

But it was the reaction of US citizens who had never seen hurling before which was most pleasing.

Later that evening, I was seated alongside a couple from Ohio at the Notre Dame/USC football game, who had, by their own admission, attended the Super Elevens out of curiosity.

They told me that “they were blown away by the action” and they want to see and learn more about the game.

On the morning of the match, Dessie Farrell and Donal Óg Cusack made a presentation on hurling to the prestigious Ireland Council of Notre Dame, who oversee the biggest university faculty of Irish Studies worldwide.

Notre Dame see themselves as an Irish university and this game boosted the relationship between this great institution and Ireland, building on the links established down through the generations.

GAA president Liam O’Neill has endorsed the new format and spoke encouragingly on this trip of the need for the GAA/GPA to further the links with international outlets and to cater for their needs.

This new game, he felt would go a long way to achieve those goals in the immediate future.

There is no doubt that a shortened format will appeal hugely to units of the GAA abroad. The game can be adapted to a nine-a-side, 11-a-side or 13-a-side depending on the pitch sizes, a huge plus given the difficulties in sourcing full-sized pitches abroad.

The players involved last weekend, and in the previous trials, have expressed a huge interest in the concept. Those on this trip insisted on preparing for the game in Notre Dame as they would have for a regular championship game here at home. There were no late nights and they abstained from alcohol, which showed a huge commitment to giving a top level performance for the American audience.

But does the game have a future? Without doubt — and not just abroad. It is an ideal game to foster the skill level and improve standards in the non-traditional hurling counties.

Four regional teams, such as Connacht (without Galway) could take on a Down-Antrim-Armagh-Monaghan combination while a grouping from outside the elite counties of Leinster could play a Carlow\Kerry combination. Guest players from the so-called stronger counties with experience of playing this game could supplement the squads, thereby improving standards all round.

The games could be played when there is no inter-county activity. This would give some players extra exposure to high quality contests in the “weaker counties” and further develop the 15-a side game.

Developing it further is key. Whether it is kept exclusively for overseas involvement or whether the GAA can find a slot for it in their domestic calendar (the interprovincial series comes to mind), the game is here to stay.

It has the potential to satisfy the hurling needs of all age groups even moving up to the veteran level in winter leagues. But the major challenge is moving it on to the next level over the next few months.

It will thrive if given the right support. And I got the sense in this Irish university at the weekend that a new glorious chapter was being unveiled in the GAA’s proud history.

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