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Thursday, June 08, 2006

You think hockey is a rough sport...

I recently got back from a trip to Ireland and got to see some of the roughest sports on the planet. Sure, the world adores soccer/football, as do the Irish, but they also revel in playing some of the toughest sports I've ever seen. No wonder they down pints of Guinness. It's to relax them before a game or dull the pain after one.

Hurling looks like an ancestor of field hockey and it is a grandfather of ice hockey so all the physical traits are there, except its played on a field. Imagine a sport where you get to carry bats around a soccer field, whacking a baseball at field goals...plus there's no protective gear (only helmets that a few players wear).

I also got to see a bit of rugby on television in a pub. Take the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks, strip them of their shoulder pads and helmets, and let them go at it. That's rugby. Only rugby players aren't 6-5, 350. Most of them are linebacker/fullback size with a couple of wideouts thrown in. One couple I met in Dublin were parents of a son on an English team. They talked about his broken thumbs, dislocated shoulder and strained back like proud parents displaying their his first-place science fair exhibit. And yet, for all the brutality, Rugby players are extremely cordial on the field. When speaking with the referee, they must refer to him as "sir."

But, the winner of the toughest sport I saw goes to Gaelic football. It's a mixture of rugby, American football, soccer and a wrestling match. Virtually anything goes in the sport. It looks a lot like Australian Rules Football - that sport ESPN televised at 2 a.m. during its earlier years. If the ball is in the air, it's a free-for-all. Players whack each other over the head, trying to jar the ball loose (or knock them unconscious, I wasn't quite sure how that worked). And oh yeah, there's no protective equipment whatsoever - no helmet, shoulder pads, shin guards. I doubt some of those guys wore a cup.


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