A new chapter is being written in sporting history with the launch of a new hybrid game of Scottish Shinty and Irish Hurling, called Iomain.
For 120 years Scotland and Ireland have competed in challenge matches involving a mix of Shinty and Hurling and now the new game, which could re-write the rules, is to be piloted following the televised Marine Harvest Shinty/Hurling international Series match at Croke Park in Dublin on Saturday evening.
Officials have returned to the origins of both sports to develop the concept with the word ‘Iomain’ being one of the Gaelic words for both Shinty and Hurling.
However, in a major break from tradition which has lasted over a century, players will use a universal stick that is neither a Scottish caman or Irish hurley.
Presently, the hickory stick or ‘caman’, is a thinner wedged club evolved for ground play while the ash hurley is a flatter bladed stick designed for aerial hitting.
The stick which will be used in Saturday’s demonstration has been developed by highland caman producer, Alan MacPherson, in conjunction with Irish hurley maker, Michael Barron.
The bottom third of the stick will be the same dimension and design for both teams with the design and length of handle being optional.
In a further shift from modern composite rules, only goals will count rather than hits over the cross-bar; a significant departure for the Irish.
The idea has been developed by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in Ireland in conjunction with the Camanachd Association in Scotland, with the Irish seeking to reintroduce the forgotten art of ground hurling.
And although Iomain may not immediately suit all the purists, officials on both sides of the Irish Sea believe it could spread beyond traditional country boundaries.
Donald Stewart of the Camanachd Association said: “The ten minute demonstration game on Saturday could represent the first step towards an exciting progression for Shinty outside of Scotland, where it is an aim that it is played among the diaspora.
“The GAA wishes to introduce a game of ground hurling around the world to increase participation, particularly at youth level, and the Camanachd Association similarly wishes to promote Shinty with the GAA’s support.
He added: “We’d like one day to play other internationals against other nations.”
Iomain is the root source from which both Gaelic stick and ball games descended although the game has evolved differently on either side of the Irish Sea.
The first recorded Shinty/Hurling challenge between Scots and Irish was in 5th Century AD but the first recognised mixed rules game was at Celtic Park in 1897.
Since then, an agreed set of compromise rules have enabled the two nations to face each other on a regular basis, although never with the same stick.
Pat Daly, Director of Gaelic Games at The GAA, says a re-unified game could be popular wherever Scots and Irish expats have settled in the world.
“Ground hurling was a big part of the game in Ireland right up to the 1980s and 1990s but is pretty redundant now.
“We felt it was incumbent on both countries to look at the sport’s origins and take it back to the essence of both games.
“Having one stick would also enable us to potentially internationalise the sport. We recently had hurling teams over to Ireland from Argentina, Indianapolis and Milwaukee and Iomain would have broad appeal in places like this.”
The demonstration match will take place in the half time break between the International Rules football match which immediately follows the Shinty/Hurling International.
Shinty historian Hugh Dan MacLennan feels it is only right to look at the development of the cross-codes game.
“It is certainly worth assessing and has value as a trial. One of the issues has always been about finding a truly level playing field and if you can’t do it by the scoring system, then looking at the equipment seems logical.”