Ever since its prehistoric foundations, hurling has been played with two fundamental instruments; a hurl and a ball. The Sliotar's composition has included various components including wood, leather, rope, animal hair until the modern molded synthetic Cummins Sports version that will be used this week in the All-Ireland final.
The earliest existing sliotars were uncovered by the Queen's University Belfast's carbon-dating centre. Through their expert analysis and extensive research, an 800-year-old ball consisting of matted cow hair with a plaited horsehair covering was discovered and is now housed in the nation's museums under an exhibition titled: 'Hair Hurling Balls: Earliest Artefacts of Our National Game.’
This is why there is a link between the name sliotar and the Irish word 'liotar', meaning 'hair.'
The first standardised sliotar appeared in 1886, not long after the GAA's founding. A pre-game dispute between Tipperary and Galway threatened to halt the match as the sides argued over the size and weight of the game ball, given the massive discrepancy between sliotars used nationwide at the time.
A Gort man, Ned Treston, intervened and offered his expertise. Treston was a saddler by trade and constructed a sliotar for the game which became the standard model thereafter.
The sliotar has been the focal point of its fair share of controversy in recent years. When speaking to RTE, Former Kilkenny hurler Richie Power was adamant Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash deployed some sliotar high-jinks All-Ireland quarter-final in 2013.
Kilkenny had been awarded a penalty and Power converted it. However, a re-take was ordered and Nash took advantage.
I struck the penalty very, very well and it flew into the net but unfortunately Tommy Walsh was nearly in on top of Nash by the time I hit the ball and Barry Kelly called it back to be retaken. And it was a heavier ball that Nash handed me out for the re-take. I knew straight away when I had the ball in my hand that it wasn't the same ball I struck the first penalty with.
A few people said it to me afterwards. My brother actually said it to me after the game that Nash went and picked a ball out of his bag and threw it out to me.
Power missed the penalty, although Kilkenny did manage to grab a point when Nash pushed over the rebound.
In 2017, Nash was transmitted from offender to victim. Prior to the Munster final between Clare and Cork, a sneaky Clare official ran onto the pitch during the national anthems and grabbed Nash's unguarded bag of sliotars from the goal mouth. He then proceeded to toss them into the crowd, much to the amusement of the Semple Stadium terrace.
Galway and Limerick will line out in front of 82,000 patrons on Sunday and at 3.29pm all eyes will be fixed on referee James Owens as he prepares to throw in a size five ALL-STAR Sliotar, expertly designed by Cummins Sports.
The sports supplier opened their doors in 1971 and quickly spotted a problem. Sliotars were a scarcity and Willie Cummins was sent on a mission to source them. Initially, he dissected those he found to understand their composition. Rising from that wreckage Cummins devised a bold new design and just five years later the “Willie Cummins All-Star” was chosen as the official ball for the All-Ireland senior hurling final.
That game was played between Cork and Wexford in front of 62,684 people in Croke Park. The Irish Times report from that day lauded praise on Cork's full-forward and captain Ray Cummins for his 'winning contribution' of 1-2. He did, however, have a certain advantage, the sliotar they used that day was designed by his father.
From those remarkable origins that design persevered and today that Cummins Sports design will once again be this year's designated All-Ireland final sliotar.