Gaelic football: From Ireland to Quebec, it’s just a kick away!

The Halifax Gaels GAA Club’s Rebecca Donaghy (left) and the Goose Village Black Rocks GAC’s Orla Mahon (right) during the 2023 Montreal May Tournament. Photo credit: STUDIOS PEPPO

This older variation of football is played by a Concordia club.

Football dates back many centuries and has since grown in different directions, developing different codes and rules. The commonality: using the foot to kick the ball into a goal to score points. The variation: the method of carrying said ball, regardless of its shape.

The two more popular codes among North Americans are association football (soccer) and American football, but there are many more variations across the world. For instance, rugby originated at Rugby College in the United Kingdom and branches out into two rule sets: rugby union and rugby league. Australian rules for football exist as well. However, the lesser-known Gaelic football, also known as Irish football, is less common, but certainly no less interesting. 

Gaelic football dates back to 19th century County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland. It was part of a collection of Sunday field sports played after church, which were called “caid,”directly translating into English as “stuffed ball.” The Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA) was formed in 1884 and included camogie, hurling, Gaelic handball and rounders.

At first glance, the sport seems like a hybrid of rugby and soccer, as players can carry the ball with their hands and kick the ball through two upright posts. However, these posts are an extension of a net in front of which a goalkeeper is positioned. The pace of play is noticeably quicker.

To play the ball, a player is allowed to carry it, but not for more than four steps or for the time it takes to move four steps. At that point, they have three options: dribble the ball once (like in basketball) before taking another four steps and then dribbling with their feet (like in soccer), dribble right away with their feet, kick the ball up to themselves (imagine doing soccer kick-ups while running). To pass the ball to a teammate, a player must either punch the ball or kick it. Throwing is illegal, except for the goalkeeper, as in soccer, unless they exit their parallelogram (equivalent to the 18-yard box). 

A goal is scored by kicking the ball into the net. This counts for three points. One point is scored when the ball passes over the crossbar and through the uprights.

The game is certainly accessible. Montreal has a Gaelic Athletics Club (GAC), the Shamrocks, which breaks up into an internal super league in the winter and plays in the Stinger Dome every Saturday evening. 

The Montreal Shamrocks participate in national tournaments in the spring and summertime, including the Eastern Canadian Championships, where over 200 players participate in GAA sports, as well as the Montreal May tournament, where the Shamrocks host teams from Canada and upstate New York over the Victoria Day weekend.

For Gaelic football played in Ireland, the pitch is almost twice the size of a soccer field with 15 players on each side. The Shamrocks, however, play nine-a-side on a regulation soccer pitch in the summertime, and seven-a-side in the Stinger Dome for their winter internal super league.

“It’s tough to get used to a much faster play,” said Conor McAuley, who moved to Montreal from Belfast only two weeks prior to speaking with The Concordian. “[The seven-a-side] is a lot of running back and forth, as opposed to full pitch, which is a bit of a slower play.” The newcomer is looking forward to playing for the Shamrocks in the summer.

Our university is represented by the Concordia Warriors in both men’s and women’s. The super league consists of four men’s teams and an ever-expanding women’s division, which has just added a fifth team at the beginning of this winter season. Two years ago, there were only three women’s teams.

“The Super League was a way to get everybody playing regular games,” women’s Shamrocks coach Paddy Mahon said. “It’s a useful development tool as well. It helps people develop their skills. It’s not non competitive, but it’s not as competitive as playing for the Shamrocks.”

Most importantly, the game is easy to pick up. For anyone experienced in playing ball sports, all it takes is the desire to play. “There are a lot of ex-rugby players, a lot of soccer players that have joined,” Shamrocks treasurer and JMSB graduate Corey Crawford said. “It’s great to see and especially on the women’s side, it’s a lot more locals that are taking up the sport.” According to coach Mahon, there aren’t any players from Ireland on his team. 

Gaelic football’s popularity is growing in leaps and bounds, as nearly one hundred people attended the season’s opening day to try it out. It’s refreshing to see such a large crowd hold such enthusiasm for their sport, and even more so within Concordia.

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