Ice hockey star Alex Auld impressed by hurling foray

Canadian ‘shocked’ the skilful Irish game hasn’t had more of a global impact

 Canadian ice hockey legend Alex Auld teamed up with Wexford’s Faythe Harriers  for the latest instalment of AIB’s documentary series The Toughest Trade. Photograph:  Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Canadian ice hockey legend Alex Auld teamed up with Wexford’s Faythe Harriers for the latest instalment of AIB’s documentary series The Toughest Trade. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

 

Alex Auld was entirely unaware of hurling until a few weeks ago and presumed that ice-hockey, the game he played professionally for over a decade, was the fastest moving team sport in the world. Now he’s not so sure.

A week as a hurler with the Faythe Harriers club in Wexford has forced him into a rethink. The travelling speed of a well struck sliotar has been clocked at over 180kph in recent years – TJ Reid of Kilkenny released one of those sidewinders – and Auld reckons the ice-hockey puck moves at a slightly more pedestrian 160kph.

“It’s pretty close for sure,” the Canadian shrugged.

The really interesting thing for the 36-year-old retired goaltender is that while his sport is known and admired all around the world – he finished his career playing in Austria – hurling is largely confined to the island of Ireland.

The proliferation of GAA clubs around the globe in the last decade may suggest otherwise though it’s telling that Auld had never heard of the game until he was approached by AIB to take part in their latest The Toughest Trade documentary.

It’s a shame, he believes, because more of the world should know about the high-octane pursuit which he happily immersed himself in.

“I’m really surprised by that,” said Auld.

“After playing it, and loving it, I’m a little bit shocked in a way that it doesn’t have that [global impact]. I say that to people and they’re like, ‘oh, but there’s teams here and there’. But I found out after getting involved that there’s a GAA club in Vancouver but I think it’s like . . . I get the impression that is’s a members only thing and you either know about it or you don’t. It’s not like they’re advertising it to get more members or anything like that. I’d just love to see some way for it to get more international exposure.”

Extra mile

WexfordLee Chin

For Auld, learning to grip the hurl correctly took up half his trip before eventually competing in a game last weekend. He believes the aggression levels in both sports are comparable though acknowledges that hurlers go the extra mile by performing without padding and only head gear.

“Especially the goalkeepers,” smiled the former NHL player who enjoyed million dollar contracts before retiring at the end of the 2012/2013 season as a Red Bull Salzburg player.

“I joked because the goalkeeper has long sleeves on his jersey, ‘wow, thank God you’re padded! You don’t even give the fella a nice leather glove or something!’ It’s insane. The lack of padding is very interesting.

“In North America we have field Lacrosse which is...there are similarities there as well. They don’t have a tonne of stuff but they’ll have key areas protected. There’s nothing [in hurling] and on top of that you have the shortest shorts in the world!”

Auld spent some time with Chin’s family and said they were taken back by his nomadic existence as a professional player.

“I think the biggest difference with hurling is you’re linked basically from birth right through to the adult level to where you live,” he said. “In North America, it’s the complete opposite because you’re almost bought and sold, you’re a commodity. You’re drafted and things like that.

“I met Lee Chin’s family and they were talking about how he’s basically going to play for one club his whole life – I played for eight in 12 years! So it couldn’t be more different. His mom was just blown away, ‘how many times did you move and did your family go with you?’ All that type of stuff and she couldn’t imagine leaving home. That’s a major difference.”

As for the argument of which sport is faster, he reckons ice-hockey has an edge in one important regard.

“Definitely the players move faster in hockey, you can’t deny that because you skate faster than you can run,” he said. “But everything else is pretty similar. What I was blown away by was how the ball could be at one end of the field and you almost feel like you can take a break but then it’s right there all of a sudden and you’re in the battle.”

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