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MENAFN - Muscat Daily - 10/12/2013
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(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) ''Go Clann! Go Clann!'' the lively hometown crowd breaks into the traditional cheer as Marie O'Brien speeds towards the opposing goal. 

They get louder when she lobs the ball to herself, past an awkward shoulder tackle and into the box. From this distance, she couldn't possibly miss.

Wait, did no one else spot the blatant hand ball? Dark skies notwithstanding, both the ref and the players had clear lines-of-sight to the ball. Best not to point it out.

The supporters are much too worked up. The other team didn't seem to care anyway. Hurried into her kick by the keeper's advance, Marie's effort sails high over the crossbar.

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The men's hurling team played regional powerhouse Dubai hard

''Point. Well done!'' In the din, the utterly confused stares of a bemused few are paid little heed. More head-scratching was to follow over the course of the Middle East Senior League tournament, a showcase of Gaelic sports held at the Oman Club on Friday. Decked in red, green and white, Clann na hOman faced teams from across the GCC in a gruelling morning of Gaelic football and its close cousin, hurling.

''Gaelic football is a mix of soccer, rugby and field hockey,'' said club chairman Liam McAuliffe, delivering a clearly well-practiced instructional. ''You can run up and down the field, either kicking the ball, dribbling or lobbing it to yourself or to teammates. And there's no tackling.''

Which explains the ease with which Marie and her teammates were able to pull off one stunning scoring run after another against their opponents from Sharjah in the final of the first Ladies Middle East League tournament hosted in Oman. To learn that they lost despite scoring seemingly more tallies (and, surely, applause) is cause for further confusion.

''Kicking the ball over the goal only gets you one point. The other team managed to put the ball in the net more. Goals are worth three points,'' McAuliffe explained, with a shake of the head. ''It was there for the taking. They were as good as the others. They can take heart in that.''

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Marie wasn't in the mood to. ''You can leave your heart on the field but there's no cup to bring home. Just dirty jerseys and wet boots,'' she said. The sunken shoulders and disconsolate faces are reflective of Clann na hOman's attitude to their sports. Indeed, the Irish are famed for die-hard, all-or-nothing mindsets on fields of play but for the wider diaspora, it's both an all-overriding passion for their games and a slice of home life.

''These sports are huge at home. You either play them or you go watch them being played. So you find that no matter where in the world Irish people are, they will find a way to play. It's great to leave the home country and not be finished with these games,'' McAuliffe said.

For hurling, a 2,000 year old sport steeped in Irish mythology and considered the ''fastest to be played on grass (in terms of how quickly the ball travels from goaline to goaline)'', the dedication verges on the feverish What, if not this', would drive the players to push themselves to exhaustion during pre-season practices in the peak of summer? Training in the 40C evening heat in July is ''by far the hardest part,'' said Ciaran Hanna, the team's fleet-of-foot midfielder.

''It's all physical. They run us into the ground. You have to be physically fit to play this game. I play midfield meaning I'm both a back and a forward and I've to run the whole time.''

But, the ''passion for the game is what drives us. It is always there. No matter what club a hurler plays for, he will always put his heart into it''. That preparation came in handy on Friday with the official competition debut of the 'Super 11s'? a fast-paced, attacking format recently adapted for use overseas.

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''It's usually 15 players a side, but when there's just 11 (thus, Super 11s), it's less cramped on the field and a little easier to run around. It's a lot more open and there are more spaces to cover.

''It's pretty much the same game but everybody does a bit of everything. Whereas in Ireland, the backs never come up. It's a compromises we make here.

''The wide-open style of play means a defender can never be more than arm's length away from his man,'' said McAuliffe.

''If he is, then he's in trouble. ''Less people playing means you're constantly on the run to cover open spaces. We can play 35 minutes at home and come off no worse for wear. Seven minutes here and you're absolutely wrecked.''

On the day, Hanna put his training to good use. Ducking under swooping hurleys (curved wooden clubs) and side-stepping leaden challenges, he broke off long scoring runs into the opposing half, kept the leather tennis ball-sized sloitar away from grasping hands and finding the back of the net five times. Brief scrums and shoving matches are commonplace especially in the frequent fights for loose balls, but the weaving runs and the cross-pitch sloitar thwacking (''The ball can travel a 100m with one hit,'' McAuliffe


 






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