HURLING Vikings? The idea might sound crazy, but it’s true.
Kilkennyman Paul Reddy is responsible, having introduced students he teaches at Stillinge school in Denmark to the game he grew up playing.
The plan quickly grew from training with local students to what became an EU-backed international affair featuring schools from Denmark, England, Norway and France, who travelled to Ireland last year for a three-day tournament.
Such was the success of the 2012 event, the Danes are coming back for a second trip this month. Graignamanagh man Paul takes up the story...
“I often hear of people complaining about young people who are not interested in anything. I believe if they are given something to believe in, they will show their colours.
I teach at Stillinge School in Denmark. The school has played hurling for the past number of years and been part of a project supported by Comenius, which finance European educational cooperation.
Martin Meier, a young, driven headmaster, has been very supportive of the game and our struggle in developing hurling in Denmark.
Project in second year
The project is now into its second year. We originally planned for trips to Norway, France and England after visiting Meath and Dublin last year, plus Kilkenny for the National Hurling League match against Dublin.
The Cats obliged, and won a cracking game.
The students who were part of the hurling project last year, were in their final year of school and have since gone on to further education. This meant we had to start the project all over again this year.
If enough students were interested, then we could set it up as an extra school subject for itself. This meant the students would have to choose an extra subject later in the school day.
Fourteen students was the magic number. Any less and the project would be cancelled.
Once forms were handed out to three classes, the teenagers were given a short demonstration of hurling before giving it a go themselves.
Yes to hurling
After all the forms were filled in and counted, I was called into the office. The principal, looking bewildered, said I would have to have two teams and plenty of subs as 38 students had said yes to hurling!
It warms a Kilkennyman’s heart to see hurling on a Danish school timetable!
September came and we togged out and we could see a lot of hard work would have to be done. The students are motivated, giving 100% when we meet for training every Friday afternoon.
We coach them in ball skills, running, rising and hitting the sliotar. At times I sound like the two Paddys (Grace and Corbett), my own trainers from Graig, who taught me so much about the game.
It looked like things had taken a turn for the worse when the students from the other countries said they could not go to Ireland. In a quick change of plans we decided to invite the hurling students from Norway, France and England to Denmark for a hurling festival in May.
As for ourselves, we decided to go to the only place on earth where you can learn, play and watch hurling at the highest level - Kilkenny!
I suggested this idea to my headmaster, arguing that if we were serious about learning the game then we would have to go into the heartland of hurling itself....Kilkenny. He agreed.
The idea was to go to Graignamanagh, my home town, bringing two teams from the school. While there we would stay with local families and my mam and dad, Carmel and Pat Reddy.
We would train and play with the local under-14 team (St Fiacre’s, who are also county champions). I was on the ’phone straight away and talked to my mother Carmel who, within 24 hours, had arranged host families for 30 people.
Martin was stuck to the floor when I told him, especially when he was told how ‘big’ Graig is. He couldn’t believe it when I told him that we could team up with an under-14 team and train with them.
There was even talk about a couple of players from the senior inter-county panel coming down to Graignamanagh and giving us an extra boost.
The GAA have again been very supportive. Pat Daly from Croke Park has sponsored four dozen hurleys for our indoor competition, Camán Abú.
Camán Abú is effectively a non-contact ground hurling game which is played with a modified hurling sliotar. This suited the harsh Scandinavian Winter where we cannot play outdoors from December to March because of snow.
Denmark has fantastic indoor facilities due to the popularity of badminton and handball.
The GAA have also agreed to send Paudie Butler, the Hurling Fevelopment Officer and George O’Connor to Graignamanagh to train the young Vikings.
Eamonn Sheehy and Brendan Savage, the trainers in Graig have been very supportive and have ideas as to how we can get the best out of the experience. People in Graig have been fantastic in their support.
The stage is set. From April 21 to 26 the Vikings will be coming to Graignamanagh!
The students and teachers are really looking forward to the hurling and cultural experience.
Last year the students we brought were overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality of people in Ireland. The League match in Nowlan Park against Dublin will be lodged in our memories forever, as Kilkenny turned things around in the last few minutes to beat a very good Dublin team.
Told them not to worry
I will never forget the Danish faces when I told them not to worry, Kilkenny would prevail (there were some nervy moments, but the Cats won by 5-16 to 6-12!).
We are looking forward to playing hurling with young people in Kilkenny and seeing the game being played at a high level. We hope to see a senior match on the Sunday we arrive and maybe watch the Kilkenny senior team train in Nowlan Park.
These new students have been amazed by a game which is so wild but yet so controlled, so physical and yet so elegant.
It encompasses so many great things about being Irish; having a strong will in the face of adversity; having a team to battle beside you and never, ever giving up, are some of these things that build character.
I would never have believed that 38 teenagers would be interested in spending every Friday afternoon in the rain and cold playing a sport which is alien to their culture. Hurling simply appeals to them.
It has been a pleasure to share it with these young people.”