In a continuation of Shane Kenny’s research into ash hurley making in Ireland, he highlights the differences arising between synthetic hurleys and traditional ash hurleys.
A reliable source recently informed this writer that the supply of raw ash material in Ireland is set to disappear in the next ten years, which is an even greater concern to me considering my initial research predicted a more gradual decline. Much of this has to do with the prevalence of Ash Dieback disease, but there are other contributing factors which are hastening its demise.
The planting of ash trees on unsuitable terrain is a major issue. Many ash crops exist around the country, but a large amount are now having to be felled because of the particular method of hurley harvesting. For a straight stem to exist, the ash must grow on flat, fertile soil and be methodically pruned over time. This is unfortunately not the case everywhere.
Any respectable tree surgeon will tell you that the finest hurleys can only be extracted from the aforementioned ash type, which is twenty to forty years old, and with ideally three strong roots at right angles to each other. This ensures a strong grain and therefore a perfect hurley. It is a pity that these trees do not exist everywhere, and with poor material comes an inferior product –weak ash hurleys. There is nothing worse than having just purchased a new hurley for €22 or more, and it breaks immediately. This contributes to the interest in experimenting with its synthetic adversary.
These factory made, mass produced hurleys may appear almost sacrilegious in the eyes of the romantic GAA member, but their popularity has not risen by chance. More durable, lighter and ultimately having a longer lifespan, this alternative appears to be a wise investment to make for the extra fifteen euro or so spent. In fact, it is proving to be a huge hit with hurlers in clubs scattered all over the globe for a very sensible reason.
The strength of the traditional ash hurley is reliant on the climate that it is exposed to. Ash grown in Ireland is naturally in sync with our weather and temperature. However, on many occasions, hurleys brought abroad warp and subsequently crack in varying climates from America to Australia. Since the chance of repairing these hurleys or buying new ones quickly are virtually nil, the stronger plastic alternative seems a safer bet.
When one considers how the GAA are encouraging greater exposure for and participation in Gaelic Games abroad nowadays, it is easy to see why they are unlikely to denounce the synthetic alternative for the benefit of traditional ash hurley makers. However, how authentic are these newer models?
There appears to be, with some reasoning, regardless of the perceived benefits of plastic hurleys,that they remain inferior to the ash original. The material for a start has its deficiencies. Synthetic hurleys, unlike ash ones, for now remain irreparable once broken. Most would argue this to be a major flaw, considering many ash hurleys
can be repaired when cracks appear in the bás for only a few extra euro. In fact, the shards of a broken synthetic hurley are believed to inflict more painful damage on the player than the traditional types, which are also more likely to “give” under strain than the plastic material would.
Better to give your legs a chance in contact with ash than to suffer the full blow of an indestructible plastic hurley!
The other aspect of the hurley is its performance. Brian Cody actually stopped his goalkeeper David Herity from using the Cultec at half time in a Walsh Cup game this year, because he was reaching the opposition’s goalmouth with the wind from his own puckout!
Yet many players complain that in wet conditions, the ball slides off the bás quicker and their touch is severely hampered as a result. In contact, the reverberations in the plastic are apparently quite uncomfortable, which is open for debate amongst users. The most glaring difference between the two types however is in their production.
Many players possess what can be described as a “personal” hurley – one which, after much manipulation by the hurley maker, in shape, size, weight and balance, lives up to the description that it is indeed “an extension of one’s arm”. These variables, which in the hands of an experienced craftsman can be changed in an instant, give an ash hurley the lead over the replicated, mass produced alternative.
The stringy grain of the ash is ideal for rapid transfiguration, while plastic is a fixed and firm material. Ash timbers adaptable quality is ultimately the reason behind the personal mystique behind ash hurleys, giving it the distinct advantage over the synthetic form.
Whether this myth will continue to transcend time for much longer in favour of natural ash hurleys is questionable. However if my recent understanding is correct, it is a matter that apparently should be addressed within the next ten years – before the alternative becomes the only option.
Shane Kenny, Pundit Arena.
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