Guide to Hurling

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What You Need to Know

  1. Hurling is one of the main Gaelic Games, controlled by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA)
  2. The sport is completely amateur, though at the highest level, it attracts crowds of thousands, particularly the All-Ireland Senior Championship Final
  3. The sport is played on a pitch similar to that used in football and rugby on which 2 teams of 15 players each battle it out. Each player has a stick, or hurley, which they use to hit the ball
  4. Points are scored by either getting the ball over the crossbar (1 point) or getting it past the goalkeeper into the goal (3 points)
  5. Players are allowed to move the ball by bouncing it, running with it for 4 metres or passing it to a teammate. Players can also catch the ball, though they must release it after 4 steps.
  6. Running more than 4 paces without releasing it and taking it in the hand twice without it hitting the ground are fouls and punished by surrendering possession to the opposition
  7. The GAA website is the best place to start if you want to learn more about the sport or if you want to give it a go yourself


Hurling is one of the 4 sports which make up the Gaelic Games, controlled by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and, along with Gaelic football, the most popular. The game is a team sport in which players attempt to score goals using a combination of kicking, dribbling and hand-passing the ball.

Interestingly, despite having a massive following in Ireland, as well as a healthy following elsewhere in the world, Gaelic football remains an amateur sport, with no player or manager allowed to receive payment for their efforts. At the top level, the game is contested by counties across Ireland, with the season culminating in the All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, though the sport is also strong at the grassroots level.

The Pitch and Ball

A hurling pitch looks almost identical to a rugby pitch, though it should be slightly bigger. The game's rules state that a pitch must be between 130 and 145 metres in length and 80 and 90 metres in width. Clearly-marked white lines should be marked at distances of 13, 20 and 45 metres from each end line.

At each end, there needs to be H-shaped goalposts. The distance between the two posts needs to be between 6 and 7 metres, with the cross bar 2.5 metres and the posts going up to 6.5 metres in height. Fixed in between each goal, attached to the crossbar and the lower portion of the posts needs to be a net.

All players have special sticks, known as hurleys. These are usually around 80-100 centimetres in length, though the goalkeepers' are often twice as large. The ball, which is also known as the sliotar, weighs a maximum of 20 grams and has a cork centre with a leather cover. As of 2010, protective helmets are compulsory at all levels, from junior competitions right through to the All-Ireland finals.

Teams and Positions

Hurling matches are contested by two teams of 15 players each, with each player wearing a shirt numbered from 1 to 15. In addition to a starting line-up, each side can name between 9 and 15 substitutes, though only 5 can be made during a match.

Positions will be familiar to anyone who follows association football, and are the same as those used in Gaelic football. They are as follows:

  • Goalkeeper: Each team has one goalkeeper, who has to wear a different coloured shirt to the rest of his teammates. Quite simply, their job is to stop the opponents scoring by trying to prevent the ball from going into their goal. Goalkeepers are the only players permitted to touch the ball when it is on the ground in their own penalty area. While a goalkeeper can go anywhere he wants, once he leaves the penalty area, he is subject to the same rules as all the other outfield players. Generally speaking, goalkeepers will be tall, brave, agile and as good as kicking and passing the ball as they are at stopping shots. Opposition players are barred from physically challenging the goalkeeper when he is in his area, though they are allowed to harass him into making a bad pass or attempt to block any pass he might try and make.
  • Backs: Each team will line up with 2 corner backs, a single full back, 2 wing backs and a single centre back. All of these players are tasked with defending against opposing attackers, though the corner backs are usually more defensive and required to be extra speedy, while half backs will be expected to push forward when they can. Arguably the most important role is that of the full back, who wears the number 3 shirt. He will be required to organise the defence and contribute to both defence and attack.
  • Midfield: As might be expected, the midfielder, who wears the number 8 or 9, is tasked with acting as the main link between defence and attack. Above all, the midfielder is expected to catch kicks from the opposing team's goalkeeper, as well as from their own keeper, so excellent catching skills are essential. As a rule, both teams will have 2 midfielders each, though they rarely remain fixed in the same positions.
  • Forwards: Each team will have both a half forward line and a full forward line. Half forwards, who include left, right and centre forwards, operate around the opposition's 45-metre line and are required to feed the ball to the full forward line. Full forwards, meanwhile, operate around the opposition's 21-metre line and are tasked with scoring their team's points.

The Objective and Scoring Points

At the simplest level, the objective of hurling is to score more points than the opposing team. A single point is awarded for hitting the ball over the opposing team's crossbar and between the posts. If an attempt is successful, the umpire will raise a white flag and a single point will be added to the team's total.

Alternatively, 3 points are awarded for getting the ball between the posts and under the crossbar into the net. This is known as a goal and when one is scored, the umpire will raise a green flag.

At the end of the match, each team's points are tallied up. Usually the scores will be broken down into the number of single points and the number of goals scored. So, a team's score might read (Team A 4,4) which means that they scored 4 single points and 4 goals worth 3 points each, giving them a total of 16.

Players are allowed to catch the ball in their hands and carried for no more than 4 paces. After this, the player must release it and either pass it with the hurley or his open hand, balance it on the end of his hurley and run with it or bounce it off the end of his hurley and catch it again. The ball can only be handled twice while in a player's possession.


There are a number of ways players can attempt to tackle their opponents and get possession of the ball. Some of the most common types of tackle are:

  • Blocking: Here, a player will attempt to use his own hurley to block an opponent's pass or shot. The ball must be outside of the opponent's hand in order to attempt this.  
  • Hooking: Like a block, this is when a player tries to catch an opponent's hurley with his own at the top of its swing, usually attacking him from behind.  
  • The Side Pull: When two opponents are running alongside one another, they may collide at the shoulders and both may swing for a loose ball and pull it back towards them, often with extreme force.

Fouls and Penalties

There are 3 distinct types of foul in Gaelic football, all with their own range of penalties. Briefly, the 3 types of foul are:

  • Technical Fouls: Generally speaking, this type occurs when a player fails to follow the rules concerning how to handle the ball. Players may not, for example, pick the ball up from the floor with their hands but must use their hurleys instead. A Technical Foul will also be called if a player takes more than 4 steps with the ball in his hand, if they catch the ball more than twice without it touching the ground, or if they hand pass it towards goal.
  • Aggressive Fouls: This type of foul is called for physical or verbal transgressions on the pitch, either against an opposing player or even against the referee. Shirt-pulling, wrestling, pushing and tripping are all forbidden and serious offences can lead to a player being cautioned or even sent from the field of play.

Restarting Play

A hurling match will start with the referee throwing the ball in between the opposing midfielders on the halfway line, with the players then fighting to gain possession.

After an attacker has either scored or put his shot wide, the other team's goalkeeper will take possession and will be able to take a 'puckout' and punt it down the field to restart play. If a defender puts the ball behind their own goalline, then the opposing team take possession of it on the 65 metre line and play resumes.

If a player has committed a foul, the other team gains possession at spot where the offence was committed. If, however, the offence was committed in the penalty area (or 'Square') their opponents will get a penalty from 20 yards, with only the goalkeeper and a pair of defenders allowed to defend the goal.

Getting Started

Getting into hurling isn't as difficult as you may think. To get started, all you need is a ball, some hurleys and a few other people. Just fisting and bouncing a ball around your local park can help you develop the skills you need to play the game, plus, though they aren't exactly the same size, rugby posts or even football goals will serve adequately for informal games.

If you're more serious, then you should try and find a local team. Hurling is played right across Ireland, as well as in a number of countries right around the world. While in many cities it's played mainly by expatriate members of the Irish community, there's no need to be Irish to join in the fun.

A good place to get started is to read more about the game is the website of the GAA ( which governs the sport.  The London GAA also organises youth and adult teams, both in hurling and other Gaelic games, across London and the surrounding regions.

Further Reading

  • The GAA is the world's governing body for Gaelic sports. Its website ( is a great place to learn all about the history of the sport, as well as the rules and regulations.
  • To keep up to speed with all the latest news from the world of hurling, check out the sports pages of the RTE website (
  • Hurling is fast, exciting and perfect for sports betting. Learn how to Bet on Gaelic Sports here: 

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