- Associated Press - Saturday, March 19, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Ireland is known for hurling - the ancient sport, that is. And Niall Duffy hopes Richmond will be, too.

Duffy, head coach of Richmond’s hurling team, the Richmond Battery GAA, jokingly describes the game as “a cross between the skills of lacrosse, baseball, rugby and … second-degree murder.”

Duffy played and coached the aggressive sport in Ireland, where it is considered an honor to do so.

“Every small hamlet, town and village has their own team and are immensely proud of it,” he said.

In Ireland, no player is paid to play.

“That’s the beauty and the strength of the GAA,” said Duffy of the Gaelic Athletic Association, which governs the sport. The money made from hurling goes back to the small clubs and schools in Ireland.

Hurling, largely considered the fastest field sport in the world, has been played for more than 3,000 years. Early in its history, the sport had few rules and could be extremely violent. Laws in the Celtic legal system provided compensation for anyone deliberately injured or killed.

The game has become decidedly tamer since it began being regulated by the GAA in 1884.

Each team has 15 players, each carrying a hurley - a wooden stick with a flat ax-shaped head that’s used for scoring. When a small ball, called the sliotar, is hit into the goal, three points are earned. One point is earned if it is hit above the net between two goal posts. The game is played in 30- or 35-minute halves.

The sliotar may be caught in the air and carried in the hand for four steps. It may also be carried indefinitely if balanced or bounced upon the end of the hurley. Players can strike the ball in the air off of either shoulder, or on the ground, as circumstances necessitate. And it can be handled only two times while in a player’s possession.

Nathan Hoffert, of Richmond, became interested in hurling after watching a Guinness commercial in 2000 that featured the sport.

“I ordered a hurley and sliotar from Ireland” and began practicing, Hoffert said. The Hampton Roads Hurling Club - still the only other club in Virginia - was just forming, so Hoffert worked out with its members.

Hoffert then met Stanley Roberts, now the Richmond club’s secretary, at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery. The two began to practice together, and the Richmond Battery GAA was born in August 2014.

The club’s name comes from Civil War artillery batteries, which Roberts compared to hurling teams “trying to propel a ball down a massive field armed with what appear to be weapons.”

The club now has about 25 members and practices three times a week. Last year, the team played four competitive games. It has two tournaments and about 10 total games planned for this year.

The club also is in the process of identifying a permanent home to host practices and tournaments.

The team is made up of firefighters, a law enforcement officer, builders, students, musicians, a baker, an ex-explosives expert, a former Richmond Kickers’ player, a sports performance coach and a VCU chemistry professor. Most of them have no connection to Ireland, but were looking for a different sport to play and for the camaraderie.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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