Helmets on the Brain

What is it about hurling helmets? Probably the most talked about piece of hurling kit this summer. Everyone seems to want to get their hands on one.

But where did helmets come from? To know hurling helmets you need to know a about their history. And that inevitable takes us back to ice hockey. And speaking of ice hockey, it has recently been suggested the game itself was inspired by hurling! Anyway here's ten things you need to know about hurling helmets.

The First Use of Helmets in Hurling

In 1967 the helmet made its debut in hurling. A lad by the name of Micheal Murphy came on as a second half sub for UCC in a Cork County Final wearing a motorcycle helmet. This promoted a few raised eyebrows amongst the 12,500 souls watching the game. The background was that Murphy had sustained a fractured skull and, wanting to play in the match, had the ingenious idea to wear a helmet for protection.

First Helmet Appearance At Congress

It wasn’t until the second time of asking in 1968 UCC’s motion to the Cork County Convention led to the matter being considered at the National Congress. From then onwards, players’ headgear was on the agenda.

UCC Fitzgibbon Team Don Helmets

Having been the man to get the ball rolling, Micheal Murphy continues to play a role in the tale. Again with UCC at the 1969 Fitzgibbon in Dublin, Murphy and seventeen teammates came equipped with ice hockey helmets he had imported from Canada.

First Helmet in a Senior Inter County Game

Late the same year, Donal Clifford, a teammate of Murphy’s form UCC, was the first player to wear a helmet in a senior intercounty match when he donned the headgear in the National Hurling League Final. He subsequently reprised this role in the National League final, Munster Hurling Final and All Ireland Final. But what of the origins of the helmet in ice hockey? It is arguably a more dangerous game with the added danger of rock hard ice.

The Origin of Helmets in Ice Hockey

The first player to turn out in a helmet in an ice hockey game was George Owen for the Boston Bruins in 1928. Although he presented an idea for a helmet the hockey authorities they did not take him seriously. They would in time the way events began to unfold.

The Eddie Shore Ace Bailey Incident

Helmets appeared more common after a notorious incident in 1933. In December of that year, Toronto’s King Clancy tripped Boston’s Eddie Shore during their game. By way of retaliation Shore hit Toronto’s Ace Bailey from behind, knocking him over backwards. Bailey cracked his bare his head on the ice so hard that he received the last rites on the rink. And although he lived for sixty more years, he never played again. For his actions, Shore got a sixteen-match suspension. Shore had suffered a serious head injury of his own in the incident and thereafter wore a helmet. As a benefit for Ace Bailey the NHL introduced the All Star Game that continues to this day.

Sixties onwards to Official Regulation in NHL

Bill Masterton died from a head injury in a game in 1968 between Minnesota and Oakland. Subsequently helmets became more prevalent in the NHL. By 1979 around seventy per cent of players wore helmets. And in that year they became compulsory for new players.


A Hurling Helmet for All Seasons

As the sixties petered out and the seventies came around the sight of helmets amongst hurlers became more and more common. Some perched on the crown of the head in an ill-fitting pork pie hat arrangement; others low slung round the ears. Conor Hayes of Galway became known for a distinctive golden affair that looked like an upside down dome. In every team a few boys wore a helmet and a few more relented every year. In the eighties the metal visor became a feature of helmets.


When The Helmet Came off It Meant Business

With the advent of the helmet cam another practice – that of taking the helmet off as if unconstrained with the wind in the hair a man could puc the ball farther, hook better and block harder. The likes of Tommy Walsh would often end the game bareheaded. Likewise Ben O’Connor.


Helmets Made Compulsory in Hurling

In recent years the GAA took on board the view of the medical fraternity – and

decreed that helmets would be compulsory as of January 2010. No longer the likes of Sean Óg, John  Mullane or Anthony Daly close up. The GAA announced in 2010 that hurlers at all levels must wear helmets, including faceguards. It meant senior inter-county players follow the regulations that had already been in place at minor and under-21 level where helmets were compulsory. In fact when you think back, it is hard at times to believe that young hurlers played bareheaded.

Players and Their Helmets

Some players became distinguishable by the helmet. Eoin Larkin in his familiar green and red helmet, reflecting The Village Club Colours. Team mate Henry Shefflin instantly recognisable in his green helmet.  Having said all of that we are spared the sight of the heroic hurler blood dripping head split marching off the pitch only to come back minutes later, like the Mummy Returns, swathed in bandages, ready to slash and burn all round him. Occasionally we are treated to a blast from the past in the form of the old Space Helmet nowadays favoured by occasional veteran Camog along with a pleated skirt, woollen knee socks and a yellow mikasa glove or the grizzled junior B hurler with teeth missing, a 37 inch hurley and the battle scars to prove it. Not for the fainthearted.

Interference with the Helmet

With the blanket adoption of the helmet, a new form of provocation and injury emerged with the offence of interference with the helmet. From 2014 this was upgraded to a straight red card offence under Rule 5.19 which states: To behave in any way which is dangerous to an opponent, including to deliberately pull on or take hold of a faceguard or any other part of an opponent’s helmet.

O’Neills Koolite Helmet

Our O’Neills Koolite hurling helmet is designed to be as light as possible yet still offers the required level of safety and impact absorption. Player comfort and safety is our primary consideration. Each helmet comes with a tailored O’Neills helmet carrier bag that can also carry spare liners, gloves, grip spray and hurling essentials.

- 620 gram weight
- Conforms to NSAI IS 355: 2006 safety standards

- Patented removable and washable liner containing aerosilver technology

- Personalised options available