A hurling revolutionary

Interview: Peter Curran – Curran Hurling

In a conversation with Peter Curran the line between hurling and business is very blurred. This is because he is a man who spent his youth playing hurling and his recent years making a living out of hurling.

And if hurling is now providing his livelihood then nobody can say that he hasn’t earned a bit of reward. He played senior championship hurling for his local Westmeath club Clonkill for 26 years and was a regular on the Westmeath senior hurling team for 18 years. That’s commitment!

Peter Curran invented and now supplies Ireland with indoor hurls from his family-owned firm near Crookedwood in Co Westmeath. The advent of indoor hurling has been a major boon to the sport right across the country and in particular in the weaker hurling counties where children can now have their first taste of hurling in a safe and easy way.

An indoor hurl consists of a traditional ash handle with a special rubber head moulded on to it. Like all good ideas, it’s a simple concept, but its impact on hurling coaching has been huge.

Hurling is basically a summer game depending on good ground and relatively dry conditions. Obviously in Ireland those conditions only exist for a limited part of the year. With indoor hurling any local community with a hall or sports centre people can now play the game indoors at any time of the year. The rubber head on the indoor hurl prevents damage to the floors of those halls. It’s also much safer and less painful for the players who might get a belt of a hurl.

Indoor hurling is a slightly cut down version of the real thing but all the skills that can be performed outdoors can be done indoors.

At the moment various rules are used around the country with some coaches opting just for ground hurling for smaller children. Peter is working on a universal set of rules for indoor hurling

This is obviously necessary given the space available indoors but it also flattens out the skill disparities between players and broadens access to the game. The youngsters get used to having a helmet on their heads, a hurl in their hands and begin to get an eye for striking and catching the sliotar.

So it’s a clever innovation from a man who is always willing to think of new ideas. This versatility was also present in his game and he says that he played in every position on the field except goalkeeper.

His journey into making hurls was fairly traditional. Like many long-term hurlers he made hurls to suit his own game. Then he made hurls for a few other players and then, by word-of-mouth, his reputation as a hurley-maker spread.

But it was really only part-time at this stage. His business experience came from a ten year stint as a farm manager. He was brought up on a farm so the agricultural side came naturally to him. But he also had control of the management side of the business so that he gained valuable business experience. His time there ended when the farm was sold off.

He was still very involved in hurling and in organising his local club. He recalls going as far afield as Wexford to find hurls for the club and at that time, as now, most hurley makers were based in the south of the country.

He had a decision to make. “I decided that the time was right, that if I was ever going to do it, that was the time. So I bought in some machinery from Italy and started making hurleys on a commercial basis,” he says. 

He didn’t only make hurls as he had to buy entire ash trees. So he also made specialist ash products, such as tool handles along the way.

Over the years he noticed the failings in hurling, particularly on the coaching side. Kids were trained up to the autumn and then didn’t see a sliotar until the spring, when they had forgotten half of what they had learned. That’s when Peter decided that indoor hurling was needed but he still had some way to go to make it happen.

“I knew what I wanted and I decided to do a bit of research. I wanted to be able to hit a ball as hard as I could and still not be able to drive it. I wanted a head on a hurl that could be used on a maple floor.”

So he headed for Athlone IT, a college with one of the top polymer departments in the country. He got in touch with one of the lecturers there who advised him on the types of polymers which would be suitable.

His first idea was to vulcanise the rubber on to the head of the hurl but the company who sold the rubber wanted him to buy two tonnes of the stuff. He then tried an alternative approach with a different material in which he formed the head of the hurl, known as the bás, and then pushed it on to the hurl.

It worked. It was now time to try it out. But the problem now was finding a suitable ball. The traditional sliotar was no good as it travelled too fast for an indoor game. Peter had to start from scratch and design a new ball.

“To cut a long story short, I tried out 85 different balls before I came up with the right one. It was a ball with holes in it. The idea of the holes is that as it flies through the air spinning, the air actually slows the ball.”

So he now had his ball and his hurl. But he needed to put them through their paces. Another problem soon arose.

“I was above in the field and I was trying out this hurl when the head flew off the hurl. This was too dangerous for your opponents or for anyone watching the game. The problem was that it was impossible to find a glue to hold the head on the hurl.”

It took him a year to come up with a solution which involved moulding the material directly on to the hurl. He brought in the machinery and started to manufacture the hurls himself. This involved a lot of money and time in order to get the equipment right.

This process, painstaking as it was, reveals something of his philosophy. He didn’t want to go with the first solution he came up with but wanted to get it right. He has the same attitude to hurling training.

“The saying is that ‘practice makes perfect’. Well practice doesn’t make perfect and never will. It’s perfect practice that makes perfect. If you are shown the wrong way to do something, you can practice it for the rest of your life but you’ll never get it right. You need to be doing it the right way from the start.”

Peter is continuing to experiment with new types of hurls and he is still heavily involved in hurling. One of his club’s (Clonkill) proposals is for an indoor hurling arena with a synthetic surface that would act as a regional training centre for hurling. They have been working on the idea for a number of years trying to catch the ear of the authorities and while they haven’t clinched the deal, they haven’t given up either.

He has developed a soft ball for small children and an ‘alley’ ball for the relatively new training idea of hurling alleys. He is also opening a one-stop-shop for hurling where clubs can come to buy their supplies. 

The company is also revamping their website which will allow them to sell online, where an increasing number of clubs are sourcing their equipment. Peter has also been to sports trade fairs in Europe in order to keep abreast of the latest developments in the industry.

His advice for young entrepreneurs is: “Don’t listen to the knockers. In my experience a lot of the people who told me it couldn’t be done didn’t do a lot for themselves. 

“Secondly, if they want advice, go to somebody who has done something. Don’t be taking advice from people who have done nothing. The country’s full of them,” he concludes with a grin.