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Is hurling the fastest field sport in the world?

Published 05/08/2015

New technology means we can now record the breathtaking sliotar speeds reached during top hurling games
New technology means we can now record the breathtaking sliotar speeds reached during top hurling games

Hurling’s exciting combination of speed and skill is the reason why it’s often described as the greatest field sport in the world.

Watching players soloing at full sprint before, belting the sliotar at incredible speed and with pinpoint accuracy, is unique in world sports.

Up until recently it was impossible to determine exactly how fast hurling was, but new technology means we can now record the breathtaking sliotar speeds reached during top games.

Liberty Insurance Ball Speed measures how fast the sliotar travels during Senior Hurling Championship matches held in Croke Park. The data, supplied by Hawkeye technology, was used for the first time in 2014 and is based on shot attempts, above the crossbar and within four metres of the uprights.

The fastest shot recorded to date was hit was by TJ Reid of Kilkenny against Limerick in the 2014 GAA All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final, when a remarkable speed of 181.1 kph was measured.

By way of comparison, the average shot speed of the Kilkenny team in the same match was 123.6 kph.

The statistics are impressive but there are other sports where the ball also travels at speed. Granted, they can’t match our national sport for excitement or sheer enjoyment, but there are several games that produce phenomenal ball speeds – just not as frequently as hurling.

For instance, golf isn’t known as a sport where speed is a factor, but it definitely is when it comes to those long distance four and five pars. A golfer’s club speed is key to distance, but the ball speed created at impact is the biggest determination in how far the ball actually carries.

Gaining just one extra kph of ball speed can increase driver distance by up to two yards. The highest recorded golf ball speed is 362 kph by former long drive champion Ryan Winther in 2014.

In hurling, the sliotar is continuously in play, compared to say baseball or golf where there are regular breaks in between shots. The ball can reach high speeds in baseball when the pitcher throws a ‘fastball’. Some pitchers such as Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens, have thrown fastballs at speeds of 152.9–170.59 kph the speed is not dependent on the muscle mass of the pitcher, but rather the torque he can put on ball through his body.

Cricket bowlers also put huge speeds on the ball with the fastest ever bowl measuring at 161.3 kph by Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan. However as the ball is always played to the ground before the batsman, that speed reduces significantly before contact with the bat is made.

Another example of impressive ball speed can be found in Jai Alai, a variation of the Basque game of pelota. Best described as Squash doubles on steroids, teams of two players bounce a hard-skinned ball around a court with large curved wicker baskets at speeds of over 300 kph

Although squash itself is played with a hollow rubber ball, the best in the sport can still hit it at astonishing speeds. Last year Australian Cameron Pilley broke his own world record when he smashed two 281.6 kph serves.

Another racquet ball sport than serves up some amazing speeds is tennis. The fastest serve ever recorded was hit by Australian Samuel Groth in 2012, when he reached a speed of over 263 kph. Slow-motion video shows that a tennis ball hit at high-speed by top players completely loses its form for roughly five milliseconds as it hits the racket.

There are plenty of famous hot-shots in soccer but you may not have heard of the player believed to have struck the hottest shot of them all. He’s Brazilian Ronny Heberson and he had fans gasping for breath and the opposition goalie grasping at air in 2006 when he blasted a free kick at 211 kph for Sporting Lisbon during a Portuguese league match.

Technology has revolutionised our ability to track and measure ball speed.

Hurling compares favourably to its international counterparts and is considered by many to be the fastest, oldest and most skilful field sport in the world.

If you're heading to the Waterford v Kilkenny hurling semi-final this weekend, check the big screen at half-time for the fastest ball speed and @LibertyIRL next Monday for an infographic with ball speed and other stats.

Irish Independent

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