By Eduardo Cuan, Contributing Writer
Region – The fastest field sport in the world isn's being played at Gillette Stadium or Fenway Park. It's happening at Worcester's Burncoat High School and Clinton High School. End-to-end speed is just one of the reasons hurling, a Gaelic game that is a huge part of Irish culture and heritage, is a rising interest in the Metrowest Irish scene.
Hurling resembles something David Ortiz, Tom Brady and Zdeno Chara would think up if they were stranded on a desert island, sharing a Gatorade bottle spiked with ayahuasca. The sport has strong influences of hockey, lacrosse, baseball and rugby. But then, there are flashes of other athletics, such as repeated 30-yard dashes and flying through the air catching balls barehanded.
Teams play on 500-foot rectangular fields with soccer-like goals with football goalposts on top. If a sliotar (ball) is hit past the goalie and into the goal with a hurley (stick), is worth three points. If the sliotar is hit between the goal posts above the goal, the offensive team is rewarded only 1 point.
Worcester plays in the Boston/Northeast Division of the North American Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), which consists of teams from Hartford, Conn., Concord, N.H., and Portland, Maine. During the regular season, each team faces off twice, once at home and
once away. Worcester kicked off the season with a home win against Hartford April 27. Those who missed the action needn's worry as the season runs until Aug. 3, at which point the top two teams play a single championship game. Then, the top two teams of each regional division advance to the nationals.
Worcester's team consists of 13 players, ranging in age from 22-52. They mostly come from central Massachusetts, including nearby Marlborough, Westborough, Shrewsbury and Grafton. A few players come from as far as Rhode Island and Boston.
“Once people get out of college and they aren's playing sports, they want to stay fit and competitive,” said goalie Michael Dufault, who lives in Shrewsbury and is passionate about promoting hurling through social media and events for youth and adults. “Once they find us, they get hooked again.”
The Worcester GAA brotherhood was formed in 2009 by Dan Donahue, a graduate of Holy Cross. While studying abroad in Ireland, he attended his first hurling match and fell in love with the sport. He came back to Worcester and mustered funding for hurlers, helmets and sliotars. Then, by word of mouth, he recruited several Irish guys looking for the same outlet. Two of the original members – Aidan O”Shea and Liam Kelly – are still on the team.
In 2013, Worcester won its first regional championship and was invited to play in the national tournament in Cleveland, Ohio. This year's nationals are being held in Canton on Labor Day weekend.
The team has come a long way in a short time, both on the field and off. Nowadays, it receives additional local support from, among others, Galway Bay Irish Pub, O’Connor's Restaurant and Emerald Meats in Worcester, and the Boroughs Family Branch YMCA and Buffalo Wild Wings in Shrewsbury.
“We are all very close friends,” added Dufault. “We play hard and we play together to represent Worcester.”