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Earlier this month, the annual Hurling Classic descended on New York City, bringing a little bit of Irish sporting charm to the United States. An obvious question is why is hurling managing to make an impact in America?
Hurling remains one of Ireland’s two major national sports, but it seems it is travelling well in the States. While it can’t compete with basketball or football, where people embrace the sports on venues like NetBet football, hurling has found a dedicated audience in America. The Hurling Classic highlights the growing appeal.
Now in its fourth year, the Players Champions Cup (Hurling Classic) moved to New York City after three years as the Fenway Hurling Classic in Boston. During this month, 30,000 spectators flocked to Citi Field to watch the cup and America is clearly becoming interested in the sport of hurling.
Certainly, hurling appeals to sports fans on a core level. Many view the sport as an art and a callback to the Irish warriors of eras past.
As in other years, the Hurling Classic was played between the top four counties from the All-Ireland Senior Hurling tournament. Hosted by Fenway Sports Management (FSM), the company that owns Liverpool FC and the Boston Redsox, the tournament reached a new audience in New York.
“We’re aiming to replicate that success in New York and hope to introduce hurling to new audiences and generate more interest in the sport,” FSM spokesman Mark Lev told the BBC.
Kilkenny reigned supreme during the 2019 Players Champions Cup, defeating defending champions Limerick 64-40 in the final.
More than just promoting Irish hurling, the Classic is boosting the hurling community in the United States. American hurlers say the level of competition is reaching a level that is comparable to that in Ireland. With five senior teams competing in New York City, hurler Tommy Kavanagh told the BBC the competition is of a good standard.
He puts the capabilities of this generation of American hurlers down to the roots of the players. “The majority of the American-born players’ parents were born in Ireland, and their skill set would be at 17 or 18 as good as any 17 or 18-year-old in Ireland,” says Kavanagh, who is originally from Borrisoleigh, near Thurles, County Tipperary.
As anyone who has been to New York during St. Patrick’s Day will attest, the city is steeped in Irish heritage. With that in mind, hurling is not a new sport in New York, even if the Players Champions Cup is enjoying its maiden competition in the city.
Indeed, hurling has been reported in New York City from as far back as 1772, influenced by Irish soldiers stationed with the British Army. Of course, an influx of Irish people flowed into America as the country became an immigration center, allowing hurling to become more established.
America’s first club, the New York Irish Hurling and Football Club was founded in 1857. From there, clubs were started in cities across the country.
While hurling seemed to be growing into a major sport during the 1920s, it admittedly went through phases of lower interest. It seems hurling is once again capturing the attention of sports fans in the United States. It remains a niche sport, but it is one that is becoming increasingly popular.