Ballyhale throws a little ‘road hurling’ into the mix

IT LACKS the frenzied pace of last Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final clash, but in terms of fun, inclusivity and teamwork, ‘road hurling’ scores top marks.

IT LACKS the frenzied pace of last Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final clash, but in terms of fun, inclusivity and teamwork, ‘road hurling’ scores top marks.

The phenomenon was not born in Kilkenny (some have suggested Cork) but it is quickly attracting interest here, particularly in the south of the county. In the fearsome hurling stronghold of Ballyhale, the recent fun day was the perfect opportunity for people to give it a go.

Some of Ballyhale’s best and brightest were out for the game. Henry had family commitments, and Cha is still in the States, but the Fennelly boys were out in force.

It’s an imperfect description, but think of a compromise between hurling and golf. Using a hurl and sliothar, competitors must get to the end of the course with low strokes – it’s down the road, but sometimes it goes a little cross-country.

Contestants play in teams of three. Each team is given three specially-marked sliothars. If you lose a ball, it’s a three-stroke penalty.

The captains start off, then one player is nominated to be left with the ball while the others go on with the other sliothars. The route began in Ballyhale village and stretched 4.5km between Ballyhale and Knocktopher.

“It can be quite competitive,” says Sean O’ Sullivan, club secretary for Ballyhale Shamrocks.

“You can try and go for distance, you can bounce it off a ditch. Someone will always try to cut corners. But it is also skilful –you could go up the road 100 yards and have three balls lost.”

It takes most of the teams just over an hour and a half to get around the course. It is not overly strenuous, but it does require some basic fitness.

Some 36 teams took the field that day. As well as from Ballyhale, there were three teams up from Mullinavat, and two from Glenmore. Fathers and young sons hurl together – nieces, nephews, cousins, visitors – everyone.

“The age group is eight to 80, it’s for everyone” says Sean.

“We had three ladies in their fifties, sixties and even seventies playing, and enjoying themselves. Anyone who was here last year came back and has raved about it.”

To even things up a bit, only two players from the Shamrocks senior panel were allowed to play on the same team. Leaving his older brother Michael in the cold, Colin Fennelly teamed up with Jimmy and Niall Quinn, who had come down from the North for the day, being big fans of the Shamrocks.

By the end of the day, there were only three shots between the top five teams. They had to hold a tie-breaking poc fada playoff to decide second and third spot.

Safety is, of course, paramount, and the competition had a fine safety officer in John Doyle, with two control jeeps and plenty of stewards.

“We want to go on from here and build this up,” says Sean.

“It’s not the biggest fundraiser for the club, but it’s a great family day out. Maybe in the future there could even be a road hurling championship between a few clubs.”