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Getting to grips with a new stick for the ancient game

A business based in Kilberry is using modern technology to manufacture synthetic hurleys for sale around the world.

Cúltec is owned and operated by husband and wife John and Deirdre Donohoe, while Deirdre's father Tom Wright is also a stakeholder.

The company makes synthetic hurleys which are then sold to hurlers both in Ireland and internationally.

Cúltec was founded in the late noughties by Tom and his friend Johnny Grehan who both loved hurling and were also keen golfers.

“They were out golfing one day", said Deirdre. “They said imagine if someone could do for a hurley what they did with golf clubs. When dad started playing golf the clubs were all wooden, now it's moving on to carbon fibre and iron. The idea snowballed from there. My father was an engineering teacher and Johnny was an engineer so they were able to use their skills to develop it.

They looked at manufacturing it here in Ireland originally but it was too expensive, so they moved it to the Middle East. We are in talks with the Local Enterprise Board to move it back."

The Cúltec hurl is based around golf club technology. It contains a hollowed-out fibreglass exterior, with a carbon fibre weave all up through the shaft. In the head of the hurl, there's a hollow core that contains patented substances, which John refers to as a kind of 'secret sauce of the hurley'.

“You'd have to talk to the engineers in the factory to find out what's in there," he said. “The factory that they're made in, also makes carbon fibre baseball bats for Asics, for a Japanese market, right that sell for $200 a bat so it's a deceptively high tech product."

Before getting involved in Cúltec, John's day job was as the owner of electrical goods shop, Donohoe Electrical in Navan. He decided the time was right to make a change in his career and when Johnny Grehan retired as co-owner, he and Deirdre decided to get involved in Cúltec.

“My day job was in Donohoe Electrical for 25 years, I sold the business and then when Johnny retired we got involved in Cúltec.

“I worked in electrical goods for 25 years and I wanted a change of scenery I wanted to try something else. Sport is a nice business to be in as well. When customers buy a product they're talking about their hobby, it's something they love. They're in much better form than when they're buying a new washing machine."

John and Deirdre's business skills are able to complement the engineering skills already present at Cúltec to drive the company forward.

“I'm using my retail background, it's a complicated business," says John." Johnny and Tom were able to create a great product, it was perfectly formed with a great supply chain and relationship with the manufacturer, but they had no sales experience. Deirdre has a background in banking as well. Our bread and butter is getting out and meeting retailers and clubs. Tom still has a 40 per cent share in the company and has a great hurling brain so he's great at that aspect of the company but we have a better grasp on things like supply, continuity and pricing"

The original batch of synthetic hurleys was unbreakable, according to Deirdre, but the variety on the market now is much closer to its traditional counterpart.

“It didn't conform to GAA standards", she said. “So it was changed and pulled back so that now it closely mimics an ash one in every way. The study says it closely mimics the impact, and strength of ash wood for impact and resistance."

The main advantage of Cúltec over a traditional hurley is that while there can be a lot of variations in the ash version, Cúltec hurleys are consistent across the board.

“A study by looking at the variance in rigidity across different types of ash hurleys was enormous, but with Cúltec, it was the same. It's a controlled product. It's the same with striking distance."

The study found there is also a massive differences in variation of striking distance with ash, but a Cúltec hurley reaches the highest distance a traditional hurley can reach, but it can reach this distance all the time.

This consistency was seen in the Puc Fada competition which took place in the Cooley Mountains recently.

“We saw how consistent Cúltec is at the Puc Fada competition where participants have to negotiate a five-kilometre course in the fewest pucks as possible. There were four categories, men's and women's senior and under-16. Three of the four winners were using our product, including one participant we didn't even know about. It's going to perform pretty much identical all the time so performance is very consistent".

Cúltec consistency makes the hurley very popular with Irish people abroad, as it stands up well to extreme weather conditions according to John.

"It's consistent and impervious to weather, it performs much better in the heat, cold and wet than a traditional hurley, which makes it very popular with the GAA in places like America which accounts for 20 per cent of our sales. We also sell all around Europe, Australia the Middle East and even places like Barbados. It's impervious to too much or too little moisture. It's comparable to a high-end golf club or tennis racket."

The term 'clash of the ash' has been synonymous with hurling for centuries. However, the days of conventional ash hurleys could be numbered as the availability of the ash tree has become severely limited due to the invasive disease, ash dieback, destroying large swathes of Ireland's ash trees as well as the importation of the tree being curtailed due to the war in Ukraine. This has caused a major issue for hurley manufacturers and even led to a few of them being closed down. Although some traditionalists prefer the old-fashioned camán, an increasing amount of people are turning to the newer version.

“Ash dieback is becoming more and more prevalent so people are realising to maintain the sport at the current level there have to be alternatives", said John. "Places like Limerick, Kilkenny and Clare which are traditional powerhouses are becoming our biggest customers in Ireland.

Ash dieback wasn't an issue when the company first started, they wanted to make an alternative to the conventional hurley."

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35" Cúltec Elite Premium Hurley. €58.99