Hurling is regularly touted as the greatest field sport in the world but Canadian ice-hockey veteran Alex Auld reckons the reality is that not many know about the game outside of Ireland.
The high-profile Sky TV deal, which broadcasts Championship games abroad, and the popular GAAGO service, as well as the proliferation of new clubs across various continents, have all combined to spread the small ball gospel globally.
Yet Auld, who played 237 games in the NHL in a professional career spanning over a decade, admitted he had never even heard of hurling until a few weeks ago.
He was approached by AIB to participate in their latest Toughest Trade documentary, which sees him swap codes with Wexford and Faythe Harries hurler Lee Chin.
His ignorance of the game is hardly scientific proof of a lack of global penetration, though Auld does believe that much more could, and should, be done to raise awareness of a game he’s come to enjoy.
“I’m really surprised by that,” said Auld. “After playing it, and loving it, I’m a little bit shocked in a way that it doesn’t have that [global impact]. I say that to people and they’re like, ‘oh, but there’s teams here and there’. But I found out after getting involved that there’s a GAA club in Vancouver, but I get the impression that it’s a ‘members only’ thing and you either know about it or you don’t. It’s not like they’re advertising it to get more members or anything l ike that. I’d just love to see some way for it to get more international exposure.”
Hurling aficionados also like to claim their game as the fastest team sport in the world. Again, Auld isn’t so sure and reckons ice hockey is at least comparable, noting that while the likes of TJ Reid have been clocked striking the sliotar at over 180km/h in games, around 10km/h faster than a hockey puck would travel, the players themselves move quicker across the ice.
“You can’t deny that you can skate faster than you can run,” said Auld, a 36-year-old former goaltender who enjoyed a 12-year professional career with eight different clubs that ended in Austria in 2013. “What I was blown away by was how the ball could be at one end of the field, and you almost feel like you can take a break, but then it’s right there all of a sudden and you’re back in the battle.
“In hockey, you feel as if you’re more in it and involved for more of the time. But I would say the speed is very comparable, hockey puck about 106 miles an hour and a sliotar 120 miles an hour. It’s pretty close for sure.”
Hurlers perhaps tip the balance in the manliness stakes given that they play with only headgear for protection compared to the various pieces of protective gear that ice-hockey players sport, particularly goaltenders like Auld.
“Yeah, especially the goalkeepers. You don’t even give the fella a nice leather glove or something! It’s insane. The lack of padding is very interesting.
“In North America, we have field lacrosse, there are similarities there as well. They don’t have a tonne of stuff but they’ll have key areas protected. There’s nothing [in hurling] and on top of that you have the shortest shorts in the world!”
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