‘Eire’ of excitement as hurling gains local following

Archie Rucknell is introducing a growing sport called hurling to the region, and his efforts are paying off with increased interest in the sport in South Brevard.

New to Space Coast athletes, the Irish sport of hurling dates back about 3,000 years on the Emerald Isle. It’s a pretty simple stick-and-ball game; the ball is called a sliotar and the stick is called a hurley. The object is to get the ball through the goal to score – kind of like Quidditch for all the “Harry Potter” fans out there, but without the flying and the brooms. Hurling can be a risky sport, too, with the ball reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour. A helmet was added to the regulation gear less than a decade ago.

In Ireland, hurling pits 15-man squads against each other, but in the United States it’s typically seven or nine a side in local Gaelic Athletic Associations.

“We don’t generally have the numbers,’’ said Rucknell, who is an American but lived in County Cork, Ireland, for a bit, where he grew to love the sport.

“I was actually on a field trip when I was in early college (at South Florida),’’ he said. “It was a study abroad trip and we kind of went all over and a I met (a top hurling player) in Dublin.”

Florida has hurling teams in Tampa Bay, Orlando and in Plantation in Broward County, the teams typically sponsored by neighborhood Irish pubs or Irish-owned businesses. With teams being sparse and geographically scattered, Rucknell said it’s a logistical challenge.

“It’s not an issue that we’re having trouble finding teams to play,” he said. “The issue across Florida (is) the communication is somewhat staggered … they are just not on a schedule, per se.’’

Rucknell, 28, came to Brevard because of Brittany Mulligan, who also plays on the hurling squad with him. Nolan’s Irish Pub in Cocoa Beach sponsors the team.

Among the local players is 76-year-old Al Denecour. “He was one of the first to actually sign up,’’ Rucknell said. “He lives right here in Viera.’’

Denecour has been competing for the last couple of years. There are about 13 players currently on the Brevard squad, which includes players from the Treasure Coast. Practices for anyone interested are every other Sunday in West Melbourne and Rockledge.

Hurling is a relatively cheap sport. The balls are $7 to $10. A stick costs $30-40. Helmets also range in price but are relatively cheap. So it’s easy to get involved.

“We’re always open and ready to speak with newcomers,’’ Archie said. “They are a bit more aggressive in Ireland but we play the same way. It’s always a blast to play with Irish people.’’

Denecour’s wife, Siobhan, was a star player in Ireland on the youth level. “I didn’t even know how to hold the stick properly until she showed me how,’’ he said. “She’s doesn’t play anymore but she’s a little smarter than I am.’’

For more information, Rucknell can be reached at 941-713-9831 for more details. The Brevard Hurling Club is also available on Facebook. Practice at 10 a.m. on Sundays is at Max Rhodes Park in West Melbourne, this Sunday and every other week. Every other week, practice is at Dick Blake Park in Rockledge.

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