LAKEWOOD RANCH — Hurling is more than just a sport for John Hanlon.
It’s his heritage.
It’s who he is.
It’s in his blood.
The Lakewood Ranch resident can’t remember a time when he wasn’t watching or somehow playing hurling as a child. Growing up with Irish parents, it was inevitable Hanlon would grow to love what is believed to be the world’s oldest field game.
Hanlon dabbled in hurling periodically over the years, but about four years ago, he decided he wanted to play the sport more frequently.
He found the Orlando Hurling Club online and began playing with the team. But before long, the drive to and from Orlando became somewhat tedious, and Hanlon decided to see if others in the area might be interested in playing.
Shortly thereafter, Hanlon formed the Tampa Bay Hurling Club, which is now home to roughly 12 members, who range in age from 17 to 50, and live as far as Clearwater. The team plays together at 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday and occasional Sundays at the soccer fields behind Lakewood Ranch High School. Following practice, the club heads to Truman’s Tap and Grill, one of its sponsors, for drinks and social banter.
“It’s all about promoting the game and having fun,” says Hanlon, who also serves as the team captain. “I like the quick pace of the game and the camaraderie with the people I’m playing with and against.”
The Tampa Bay Hurling Club hosts two events each year in Lakewood Ranch, including a demonstration at the Lakewood Ranch Irish Festival and the Florida Cup, which is held in late October.
Lakewood Ranch resident Ed Kelly first learned about the Tampa Bay Hurling Club during the Lakewood Ranch Irish Festival. Kelly was on his way to work out when he remembered hearing about the club’s demonstration at Summerfield Park.
Kelly quickly gave up on his workout to learn about hurling. Kelly grew up in Boston among an Irish influence.
“I liked that it was a blend of a lot of different skills,” says Kelly, who played football growing up and boxed for a while. “It’s so unusual. There’s so much skill. It’s quite challenging picking it up from scratch. I was totally new, so to be able to learn the challenge was great.”
In addition, the team also competes in tournaments not only in Florida, but throughout the eastern United States.
Most recently, the Tampa Bay Hurling Club won the 2014 Peach Cup Tournament June 7, in Atlanta. The team went undefeated in three games, defeating teams from across the southeastern U.S.
During the tournament, the teams played two 10-minute halves.
In hurling, players use a stick, or hurly, which is curved outward at the end, similar to a hockey stick, to hit a ball, or sliotar. Players can strike the ball on the ground or in the air or carry the ball on the hurly.
Each team attempts to score goals against its opponent. If the ball is hit into the soccer goal, it counts for three points. If the ball sails through the goal posts above the goal, it counts as one point. The team with the most points at the end of a match wins.
“It’s a fast-paced game, so even if you’re losing, you can easily get back into the game,” Hanlon says.
The Tampa Bay Hurling Club hopes to compete in the Connolly Cup July 19, in North Carolina. The winner of that regional tournament will earn an automatic bid to the national championship, which will be held over Labor Day weekend, in Boston.
In October, the club plans to travel to Akron, Ohio, to play a series of matches with the local club team it played earlier this year in Lakewood Ranch.
The Tampa Bay Hurling Club is open to both men and women, and no prior experience is required. In addition to members, the club also seeks additional sponsors to help cover equipment costs for new members.
“We invite people to try it out — you don’t have to be Irish,” Kelly says. “It’s a fun sport. It’s a good workout. And we don’t take it that seriously. If you like extreme sports, like hockey and lacrosse, then this is a good (club) for you.”
For more information on the Tampa Bay Hurling Club, visit its Facebook page at facebook.com/TampaBayHurlingClub.