A player must be able to sprint like a 100 metres champion, catch a high-flying ball (as hard as a baseball) in his weak hand with no mitt to help him, twist and turn like a basketball player, avoid being shoulder-charged into the ground, and be able to swing his stick while running to hit the ball in mid-air with a forehanded or backhanded swing, and in both cases with pinpiont accuracy. He must be able to hit the ball on the ground like a field hockey player, scoop the ball up off the ground with his stick to get it into his hand, and if he wants to take more than three steps with the ball in his posession, he must balance it on the end of his stick. The solid wood sticks swing at head-height, padding is non-existent, helmets are optional.
Am I describing some strange version of a game of accelerated, suicidal, ariel field hockey? No. This is Hurling, Ireland's national game and the fastest game on grass, period.
It is a two thousand year-old sport that has been played in Ireland in one form or another since pre-christian times. It originated as a way of training warriors for battle, and this heritage is reflected in the almost militaristic pageantry of the All-Ireland championships and the severe intensity at which the sport is played. The speed is breathtaking, and the violence is a little too much for some, but the skills involved in controling the ball make it an absolute spectacle to watch.
For a visual description go Here.
For a more detailed history go Here.