Jeff Purtell figures his eye-hand coordination skills began with golf lessons at age 8. He played on the LaSalle High School golf team in Philadelphia and later worked as a golf professional from 1998-2000 at Saucon Valley Country Club.
These days Purtell, 43, of Emmaus has transferred his skills to the Irish game of hurling. Known as “the fastest game on grass,” hurling uses a combination of skills found in lacrosse, baseball and hockey.
“The skills are very similar,” Purtell said. “It’s so easy to pick it up if you have played other sports.”
In 2007, Jeff’s brother, Jim, attended an Irish festival in Milwaukee and brought back hurling equipment. The Purtell brothers, who have an Irish heritage, had fun playing with the equipment and it prompted Jeff Purtell to look into forming a local team.
Purtell and Patrick O’Donnell, 28, of Allentown founded The Allentown Hibernians Hurling Club in 2008. Its players range in age from 18 to 48.
Players use a stick called a hurley to hit a ball called a sliotar, pronounced like “slitter.”
Players can scoop up the sliotar with the hurley, catch it in the air, carry the sliotar in hand for four steps, strike it on the ground and hit it with their hands. They try to hit or kick the sliotar over the goal’s crossbars for one point, or hit or kick it into the goal’s net for three points.
Games in Ireland sometimes draw up to 80,000 spectators, Purtell said. The game is played on an amateur level, he said, “but the skill level is unbelievable, as good as any pro athletes I’ve seen.”
The local hurling club uses Klines Lane Field in Emmaus for some of its practices. The club has a roster of 30 players and each game consists of 15 players on each side. The team will play in out-of-state competitions during August, leading up to championship play in San Francisco over the Labor Day weekend.
The Allentown Hibernians Hurling Club also has a youth club for hurling and gaelic football for kids ages 6-14. The club is affiliated with the Philadelphia Gaelic Athletic Association, which has arranged for instructor Ciaran Porter to teach gaelic football and hurling to some area students, including some at St. Ann School in Emmaus.
For more information about hurling for youth and adults, go to pahurling.com.