Gaelic Football: More Than Just a Sport

9 Dec

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is an integral part of Irish culture. Michael Cusack established the GAA in 1884 in order to revive the popularity of Irish sports. Cusack quickly achieved his goal of creating “a body to organize and govern athletics in Ireland” (GAA History Timeline). Today, almost 130 years since Cusack’s dream began, the GAA is home to more than 2,300 clubs across Ireland and the world.

One of my favorite parts of my trip to Ireland has been my experience with the GAA. Just a few short days after my arrival, I attended the All-Ireland Football Final between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park along with over 82,000 devoted football fans. I felt a very strange going to a game that is the equivalent of our Super Bowl when I didn’t even know what was going on. Thankfully, I had my cousins, the reigning All-Ireland Club champions, there to help me out. I have also had the opportunity to attend a U18 championship game and two of my cousins’ championship games, including the Connacht Final. After watching these games and being a part of the crowd, I have learned that Gaelic Football is much more than just a sport; it is a way of life.

 

Gaelic Football is played at two levels, club and county. Club teams are established by parish so fans are cheering on their classmates, friends, family, and neighbors. The best club level players also play for their county and take great pride in representing their home club at a higher level of play. There is a great sense of pride that comes along with playing football. My cousins play at both levels and are very proud to go out on the field and not only represent themselves and their families, but also their parish as a whole. The Major Team players (those who are over 21) are often seen as heroes to many younger players and serve as great role models for the club community.

Unlike in America where we just cheer on our teams, the Irish are fully involved in their teams’ success. The GAA is a purely volunteer organization and considers volunteers as “the life and soul of every GAA club” (GAA Volunteering). Over 6% of the entire Irish population volunteers for GAA clubs across the country, representing 42% of all sports volunteers. This means that fans are wholeheartedly invested in their clubs success, creating a passion that is bigger than just the love of the game. When giving a speech on the GAA, my uncle once said, “I am unable to find words to describe adequately what this historic achievement means to our club and community.  But what I can say is it required an incredible effort over many years by a lot of volunteers…. The team will get the majority of the credit – and rightly so – but they would never have had the opportunity to reach their potential and achieve this life-defining win without the army of volunteers that have populated this great club since its formation in 1943.”

GAA fans also serve as the financial backbone for their local clubs. Club chairmen host fundraisers throughout the year in order to raise funds for things like uniforms, field maintenance, and other related activities. This means that the GAA fan invests both their time and effort into the club, further explaining their passion for the game.

I will be the first to admit that I was confused by all of the hype that surrounds Gaelic Football. However, after spending so much time around the sport and players, I now understand why this is such a huge part of Irish culture. While I was baffled at first by the sight of grown men shaking with nervousness, screaming with rage, and crying tears of joy and unfortunately for Mayo, sadness, I completely understand it now. Up until a few months ago I didn’t even know this sport existed but now I am the crazy person on the sidelines yelling at the ref and wincing any time our team loses possession.

Michael Cusack’s dream of reviving Irish culture through sport has been realized. Gaelic Football fans are immensely proud of their teams, their players, and their parishes. They love this sport and are proud supporters both in the stands and in their homes. It has been amazing to see the devotion that GAA fans and players hold for these games and to be a part of this culture. Hon the parish!

In case you missed the All-Ireland Final, check out some highlights here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyY7UswkHas

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hC7Wa1slbiU

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