Gaelic football is one of Ireland's national sports. It is a team sport and local pride is one of the main motivators of the game. Whether you tog out in community or county colours, pride and passion fuel you on that pitch. The leather football is punted, passed and kicked from the goalposts at one end of the pitch to the other. This is a high energy and stamina match between teams that both desperately want to win. Gaelic football is an amateur sport. Players are not paid to play; players line out in their club and county colours with passion and pride.
The first legal recording of the game was in 1308. The official founding of the GAA or Gaelic Athletic Association was in 1884. The GAA have always held strong historical and political associations. In 1947 the All-Ireland Senior Football Final was played in the Polo Grounds, New York. This led to a surge of interest from Irish-Americans. The North American Gaelic Athletic Association’s first senior championships were held in 1959. The Senior Gaelic Football Champions were Los Angeles and the Senior Hurling Champions were San Francisco.
How it’s played
Two teams of fifteen line out in opposition on a rectangular grass pitch. The game is played with a round leather ball. A referee runs the length and breadth of the pitch with the play. At either end are two umpires wearing white coats and brandishing a green and a white flag. Each umpire has two flags – one white and one green. These signify the type of score. The green flag is held aloft when a goal is scored through the goal-mouth, the white flag is held aloft when a point is scored through the uprights. The umpires are also extra eyes for the referee and are obliged to watch for foul play or misdemeanours the referee may not see. A linesman patrols each side-line and they swap sides at half-time. Each half is thirty minutes long except for inter-county matched which are thirty-five minutes per half.
GAA and the Local Community
In my communities across every town and village in Ireland, the GAA is certainly the focal point of the whole community. When the local team is in a big game or in a final, then people from every place imagine will come back to attend this. If someone has a connection to the local team whether they currently live there or not, then chances are they could be there. GAA brings a whole community together. We here at Lee Valley Ireland proudly sponsor our local GAA team, named Iveleary GAA club. It is always a sense of pride when we watch them play. For a small rural village like ours in Inchigeelagh, GAA brings the whole community together, which really is something special.
Skill and Entertainment
A high level of speed, agility and skill is required to play Gaelic football. It is an exciting, unpredictable game to play and watch. Players have more freedom when it comes to playmaking than in other sports. There is more action on the ball, giving more variety in the game. Gaelic Football is a fast moving, skilled game. Players wear gloves to help their grip on the ball, especially as most matches are played on wet surfaces if not in the rain. They can pass the ball to another player by hand or foot. If they decide to charge down the pitch solo in possession of the ball, they must alternate the ball between hand and foot.
These men are working class heroes. The players are pro-athletes, training while working full-time jobs. Their fitness levels must be at professional level. They need high fitness and stamina to provide high energy from kick-off to the final whistle. The action in the game is virtually non-stop. Each half is thirty or thirty-five minutes of play. The dedication they show to the sport, team and themselves is evident in their commitment to a professional fitness regime which often means sacrificing family and social lives. Gaelic Football is not just a sport, it is a vocation.
- Kevin Jones