“Hurling 1810” – Excerpt & Pre-Order of Signed Copies

“Hurling 1810”

by Conor Power

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‘Three Good Boys’ Publishing

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{William strode briskly across in front of the Kavanagh ladies. Sarah’s eyes followed him across. Her mother watched her watching the youth Webb. The adolescent had a sophisticated but peculiar gait – a straight back and long purposeful strides.

William stood holding the spy-glass carefully and gingerly. A breeze ruffled his light blue jacket and its acute corners flapped against his tan-coloured breeches. It was the first time that he had held a spy-glass and it was the first time that he had seen a match of hurling at goals. The men who came out were not typical of the men he had seen in Ireland so far. They were leaner – more taught. They had focused expressions on their faces. Their woollen upper garments clung tightly to their strong torsos. Each carried a long stick – narrow at the catching end and wide and curved at the other end. At first they emerged in a line. Then they spread out to take up their positions, swinging their sticks wildly as if to loosen up their arms and shoulders that rippled with menace and intensity in each movement.

The two teams lined up in three rows on opposite sides of the field. The front row players faced one another barely a yard apart. Through the eye-glass, William stared transfixed at the crouching players, who snarled and spat like cornered foxes, issuing threats and insults as the crowd bayed in four hundred individual voices for action to begin.

“Come on O’Toole! Up the Glen! Let them at it boys! Swing at them! Take the fuckers down!”

William was trembling with excitement. He looked from the crowd back down to the players and up again.

“Do you see my team, Master Ellis?” Kavanagh was regal and proud, using his broad hand as a shade and peering down at the field.

“I.. I’m not sure, Sir. Which one is yours, Sir?”

“Our boys are wearing the red caps. Do you see them?”

“Yes. Yes Sir.”

“Can you see the chap with the dark hair in the middle row? He’s number ten.”

“Yes Sir. I see him.”

“He’s our new man. Keep an eye on him. If he doesn’t get hurt, he’ll be worth watching.”

The referee stood in his tailcoat and tri-corner hat. He was in between the two front rows, his full costume making him stand out from everyone else, complete with his polished black shoes and brass buckle that glinted in the Spring sun that was as warm as a summer’s orbit.

He issued a declaration that was drowned out by the roar of the crowd and threw up the ball. It was a mad urgent cacophony mixed with high-pitched screeching and heavy bellowing. The referee stood back and the front rows merged with speed and violence.

At this distance, every crunch and thud and every sharp clash of hurling sticks arrived to William’s ears a half-second after he saw them happen. It was devilish chaos to his wide eyes. Several tussles and struggles were going on all at once. Two by two, they grappled with one another to gain supremacy. Camáns were swinging, connecting with legs, with the ground and with other camáns Occasionally, he caught sight of the ball being struck by a player’s camán and whizzing along the ground at speed. Players gave chase in packs. Some pulled back from the flying mob and resumed their original position on the field, preparing to defend for when the ball came back their way.

“Do you see, Master Ellis? Each team is trying to get the ball into their opponent’s goal.”

“Yes, Sir.” He almost whispered it.

“They need to hurl the ball at the other team’s goals as often as possible.”

Just as he said so, a goal was scored. A bursting snarl of a cheer signalled the score. The referee ran to the goal. He pulled out a red handkerchief and waved it.

The crowd was getting animated now. All of their attention seemed to be focused on the match. They were willing every ball, every clash forwards, forwards. They oh-ed and ah-ed with every tussle and run and every deft piece of skill from the players. William noticed that some of them relied on their bulk to get past opponents while others relied on their skill at extricating the ball from within a melee and flicking it down the field. Some of them flicked the ball up off the ground with their hurls and tried to run along with the ball on the wide end of the stick. None of them got more than a few yards before being swallowed up by the mob, before being jostled so that the player dropped the ball or having their hurl smacked down by a swing from an opposing player’s hurl.

“The games are important to the people too,” said Kavanagh, seemingly staring absent-mindedly at the game now as it settled into a rhythm of sorts. “It gives them something to…” He cut short his sentence and squinted at the match. “I say, Master Ellis,” he spoke the words hurriedly, stretching out his left hand. “Would you mind awfully giving me the spy-glass for a brief minute?”

“Of course, Sir.” The young Webb-Ellis handed over the instrument to his host’s outstretched hand.

Kavanagh kept an eye on his young protégé Seán. The ball had broken free from the general melee and he had calmly caught it in his left hand, in mid-jump, mid-stride. He turned his head to get a glance of the goals that were a good 40 yards or more away from him. The goalkeeper from Maxwell’s team had come out from his line to assist one of his defenders in a tussle away from the main action.

Maxwell’s goalie and captain was a heavy-set 27-year-old farrier named Campbell – a solid man of Scottish Presbyterian origins with a laborious but determined run that took time to gather momentum. Seán let fly with his shot as Campbell was arriving at the scene of the altercation. He spotted the ball whizzing above his head and sailing towards goal too late. He slipped as he scrambled back to the goal, only to see it drop perfectly into the goals.

“Pin-point!” Kavanagh exclaimed excitedly. “Did you see that, Master Ellis?”

William had seen it. This was the most exciting thing he had ever seen.}