Locals looking to bring hurling to Maine

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Many people need to relax in their spare time from a world that seems to be speeding past many of us each and every day. And then there are those relax, not by slowing down, but by speeding up.

There’s a small but growing group of local athletes who fit the latter description. They are filling their recreational calendar with the sport of hurling – said by some to be one of the fastest sports there is. Peter Marietta of Westbrook is spearheading an effort that informs and explains the sport of hurling while he trying to create a hurling club.

“We have no specific name (for the team), but for an e-mail address went with Portland Hurlers (portlandhurlers@gmail.com),” said Marietta, whose athletic history includes a variety of sports.

So far, the Portland Hurlers have attracted players from towns all around Greater Portland, including Westbrook, Portland, South Portland, Raymond and Poland.

Marietta played soccer and basketball in high school and soccer and rugby in college. He’s coached soccer at the college level and he’s coached and played on rugby teams as well. But he’d always had an interest and fascination with hurling and that interest is rooted in his family.

“Hurling is an Irish team sport, said to be an Irish pastime for 2000 years,” Marietta explained. “My mother is Irish and growing up I was aware of the Gaelic games. I was introduced to the game in Denver, Colo., by the Denver Gaels.”

That introduction got Marietta hooked on the sport and he stayed as involved whenever he possibly could.

“When I arrived in Maine two years ago, I found a hurling club in Concord, N.H. I traveled twice a month to practice and scrimmage and started to rustle up interest in Maine,” said Marietta about the local club’s beginnings. “I played indoor soccer to get people interested (in hurling). I then hit up the Maine Police Emerald Society, and they are helping us become established. (At the moment) we are still looking for sponsors and fields.”

The Gaelic Athletic Association is the governing body for the sport. According to the GAA Web site, hurling is similar to field hockey because it involves a curved stick and a small ball, known as the sliotar. The stick is known as a hurley, and it has a larger face than a traditional field hockey stick. Unlike field hockey, a player can pick the ball up with the hurley and carry it in his hand for a maximum of four steps.

At either end of a hurling playing field is a goalpost with a crossbar. A player scores three points for firing the ball under the crossbar and one point for sending the ball over the crossbar.

Teams are made up of 15 players and the games are generally divided into two 30-minute halves.

The Portland Hurlers have had nearly 20 practices with 23 different hurling enthusiasts trying their hand at this fun and fast sport. The winter weather has curtailed the team’s practice schedule for the time being, but once the ground is snow-free and warm sunshine returns, the group again plans to ready themselves for their inaugural season.

Marietta expects to play the New Hampshire team a couple times and he’s hoping to get games against the numerous teams in the Boston area. While a schedule hasn’t been established, the local squad will likely play on Saturdays from May through July.

“The Irish Cultural Center in Canton, Mass., actually has an entire facility with a clubhouse and three pitches,” said Marietta about some other possible opponents. “And my best friend from elementary school has started the Great American Irish Festival in Central New York (where Marietta hopes to play one scrimmage).”

The Boston GAA Web site proclaims: “To truly get a feel for the spirit of the sport requires that you see it in action. It exhibits a unique combination of skill, athleticism, stamina and speed that few sports can match. It is acknowledged as the fastest field game on earth. It has the speed and continuous flowing action of ice hockey but on grass.”

To find out more about the sport of hurling and how you can get involved with the Portland Hurlers send an e-mail to portlandhurlers@gmail.com.

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