The spark was lit during the summer of 2002, the weekend of Stephen Quigley’s wedding in Indianapolis.
He and his friend Brian Church had fallen in love with hurling and soon a few more onlookers that July day would follow them into this odd affair.
Quigley, who was born in Indiana, discovered hurling in 1999 while spending three months studying to be a teacher at Glanmire Community College in Cork. Pat McKelvey, now principal at that school, insisted his young charge should come with him to watch the hurling team he trained.
But while Quigley planted a seed back home, he is at pains to point out that the Indianapolis Hurling Club was only officially founded in 2005 thanks to the commitment of people like Peter Mackey from Passage East in Waterford, Neil Mulrooney from Dublin and Longford’s Shane Powell.
That’s when a hobby began its journey towards the thriving community it has become today.
And now they’re hoping to plant a few more seeds in the same city which is set to host tomorrow week’s Super Bowl between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.
This Tuesday the NFL’s annual Super Bowl Village (a “downtown ten-day, three-block interactive festival”) will host the club, giving them an opportunity to introduce football fans to Ireland’s game.
“There’ll be a hitting cage, some demonstration of skills, a little bit of a game to give people an idea of what it looks like and we’ll have a couple of screens there playing some footage from Ireland,” said Susan Beaurain, the club’s fundraising chairperson.
“It’s all about crowd involvement, we’ll be bringing people in and putting a hurley in their hands.”
Added Louis Landman, club president: “We are always trying to get ourselves out there. We do some work in the community, like blood drives, serving food for the homeless on Thanksgiving, just to remind people we’re more than just a club. So our name is out there already.”
Kyle Keesling, who has been at the club for two and half years and was born an hour north of the city, had heard about the game through a friend.
“I thought he was crazy but after hearing him talking about it all the time, I finally decided to come and try it.”
The story of how it has mushroomed from being a social club to one that is now a committed member of the North American County Board (NACB) is fascinating.
“For the first couple of years, it was barely big enough to put out two or three teams so it was a lot of the same guys just playing each other,” says Keesling.
“Then they took a squad to the NACB championships in 2008 and won the C competition. That created momentum and the pub league every spring/summer began to grow.
“In 2010-11, I don’t know what happened, something must have been in the water but we had a really good presence at the Irish festival in downtown Indy and so many people signed up after that. We went from under 100 members to close to 200 in little over a year. People got interested and stayed interested.”
According to Colm Egan, Chicago-based games development officer for the North American County Board, the Indy hurling club’s appetite for the sport is “voracious” despite the fact that they never see the benefit of Irish J1 students who traditionally travel to the other major cities.
“They’ve got to a level of skill, hooking and blocking, through their hard work but now they want to move on to the next stage and develop the tactical side of the game,” Egan says.
The former St Kieran’s College (Kilkenny) captain has been with the club since the early days and remains a coach to this day and is described warmly by his club mates.
“We’re not just a flag football team, hurling means so much to people,” insists Landman. “When we get new members, we teach them about the history and the culture of the game. People buy into that. Partly because of the Irish thing, partly because of the amateur status, which people really respect. But it’s mostly because it’s the most exciting game in the world.”
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