John Allen: Sliotar dimensions much ado about nothing
Hurleys in the future may not be made of traditional ash due to the dieback disease crisis
Limerick led by 0-9 to 0-4 at the break, with midfielder Brian Ryan landing three fine points from play. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho.
The weight of the hurling ball aka the sliotar has been the subject of a fair bit of discussion and comment over the past number of years . Having a standardised sliotar became a matter of importance for the powers that be a number of years ago .
There was a season in the middle of the last decade when all the sliotars used in championship matches were supplied by the GAA and all were individually numbered. Such was the paranoia abroad about counties using balls that weren’t of the proper standard.
Over the past while there have been many new company names and logos on sliotars but all of these balls have to pass the standard criteria of the match ball dimensions so one wonders what all the fuss is about .
However there is now a body of opinion that the sliotar presently used, is too light and that points are being scored at ease almost from 90 and a 100 metres because of the sliotar’s lightness (without a thought for the hurlers accuracy or strength). But is it all as simplistic as that ?
Are we actually complaining about too many scores in games and putting some of the blame on the sliotar?
Would it not be more equitable to say players are now more conditioned and probably stronger than the players of old and that the hurleys they are using are now custom-made for all the serious players? Well gone are the days of getting a hurley out of the communal bag when the need arose. Hurleys are better made and shaped for striking the ball out of the hand, and not for ground striking. Surely, with better equipment, the players will be more consistent in their ability to strike properly much of the time (all things considered).
Are we to assume a heavier, less aerodynamic ball would make it much more difficult to score from distance or sometimes from outrageous distances?
Would not the opposite be the case? Of course there are a number of factors which determine how far the sliotar will travel when struck with the hurley. As well as having an impact on speed and trajectory, the size and mass of balls also contribute to how external forces affect them.
When two balls of the same diameter are made of materials of different density and mass, the ball with the greater mass-density will travel farther if projected with the same amount of force, or at the same initial speed. So my physics research informs me. Are all sliotars equal might be a more apt question?
Or should we be looking at hurling for all that’s so entertaining about it? It’s speed, skill and quality and quantity of scores are features that attract people to be enthused about the sport. Surely a sport that entertains so much and provides so many scores is to be commended.
Or should we be much more concerned about the shortage of ash and the problems that will create? The GAA’s games development and research group believes “‘hybrid hurley”’ may have to be used in the coming years due to the ash dieback disease crisis.
The traditionalists won’t fancy that.With regard to hurleys, prototype hurleys made from various pieces of dowelled or hinged wood pieces are already in existence, allowing manufacturers to use wood that was previously discarded. Over the years there have been efforts to make sustainable, acceptable non-ash hurleys, part ash hurleys and fibreglass hurleys. However the vast majority still play with an ash hurley.
That ash hurley has gone through many metamorphoses since Cúchulainn’s altercation with that dog. As far as I know hurleys have always been made of ash. Apparently ash is the only wood that’s supple and doesn’t crack easily. It’s light and flexible. And it absorbs the shock of another hurley so the user doesn’t get the sting in his hand. Patrick Deeley,in his recent book The Hurley Maker’s Son wrote that his late father, (a hurley maker in the Loughrea area) said that “the ash was the only wood considered to hold the right balance of sturdiness and flexibility for the job hurleys had to do”.
For the hurler of yesteryear the picking of the hurley was a process in itself. The curve of the grain was important. The thickness of the pole was also examined. And of course the bending of the stick was a must to ensure that bit of “give” that it had to have. Some hurlers always had their sticks banded and some didn’t.