LAKEWOOD RANCH — Austin Rushnell wanted to absorb everything he could about his heritage.
The Lakewood Ranch High alum has always tried to immerse himself in all things Irish.
Rushnell declared himself an Irish history major at the University of South Florida and immediately began spending countless hours researching the Emerald Isle.
He traveled this summer to Dublin for the University of South Florida Travel Study Tour to Ireland. And he even taught himself the Irish language.
But there was one aspect of the Irish culture that Rushnell never thought he would experience firsthand.
“I didn’t ever strive to play Irish football,” Rushnell says with a laugh.
A former skateboarder, Rushnell got his first taste of Gaelic football and hurling while studying in Dublin.
After a couple of locals introduced him to the two Irish sports, Rushnell, who ultimately gravitated toward hurling, spent the duration of the trip playing his newfound sport.
In a traditional hurling game, there are 15 players on a team, and each player has his own hurley, or bat. During the game, which lasts 70 minutes, players attempt to score points by shooting the sliotar through a pair of goalposts on top of a soccer goal or past the goalkeeper into the back of the net.
“It’s a combative sport,” Rushnell says of hurling. “It’s kind of brutal, but it’s a blast. I like the fact that I can get dirty with it. It’s a little more fun, and there’s a little more leeway.
“Everyone has one swing at it, but there are times when being careful isn’t the way to go,” Rushnell says. “You have to put yourself in the way sometimes, but that’s the fun of it.”
Upon returning to the United States, Rushnell sought out a local hurling team and found the Manatee Irish Hurling & Gaelic Football Club. Since then, Rushnell has been playing practically every day; he practices with the club every Sunday.
On Oct. 26, Rushnell participated in his first hurling and Gaelic football competition during the 3rd annual Florida Cup in Lakewood Ranch.
Rushnell competed in both sports, allowing him the opportunity to spend time with players who share a similar passion for Irish culture.
Rushnell plans to continue playing with the Manatee Irish Hurling & Gaelic Football Club while he finishes studying at USF.
Upon graduating this fall, Rushnell has aspirations of moving to Killarney, Ireland, to continue his research and fully immerse himself in the Irish lifestyle.
“I went there last time I was in Ireland, and I just totally fell in love with the place,” Rushnell says.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].