A Foreign Sporting Experience – Gaelic Football – by Allison Brennhofer. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
[Part of the crowd watching the match. I wish I had been smart enough to have brought a hat with me to Ireland]
I would like to preface this entire piece by saying I am not an avid sports fan. I will watch baseball (my favorite, by far, of the sports my family watches) when it’s on. I’ve even gone to quite a few baseball games. Other sports are where my attention begins to wane. Soccer interests me, but I couldn’t care less about American football. All information collected in this piece is put together by myself and a few other students in Ireland with me, who also know very little about Gaelic football.
Our wonderful bus driver, Owen, apparently knows everyone in Ireland or at least in County Mayo, in which we are located. He managed to talk his way into getting us tickets for the match between Maigh v Muineachain (their Gaelic names) or counties Mayo v Monaghan. We had our pick of seats in the stadium because he had the foresight to arrive an hour and fifteen minutes early. He led us up the bleachers till we were midfield, close to the top of the stadium. I quickly lost my Minnesota cred by bundling up under a scratchy wool blanket that are standard issue in our cottages. The stands filled within half an hour of us arriving and we were able to sit there smug because of Owen’s knowledge, as others milled around looking for open seats. I heard later that there had been 10,000 people at the match, which seems very incredible to me for a team that isn’t even professionally paid. It’s taken very seriously here.
Owen had tried to explain the basics of Gaelic football to us on the bus, but it’s difficult to remember everything about a brand new sport so I had resigned myself to watching the match completely confused. Luckily, in the row behind me, there were two younger children. The little girl was sitting next to two other students in our group and she quickly noticed their befuddlement. She was gracious enough to explain everything that was happening on the field and answered all of our questions. Her younger brother was quick to interject what he considered crucial information that she had skipped over, amid him flipping a water bottle over and over and some incredible dabbing. I was the only one watching him while the rest of us listened to his sister, so every time he succeeded with the water bottle flip he would grin at me and then kindly offered me a turn which I turned down.
[Some of the fans who swarmed the field after the match had ended]
The best description I can come up with of Gaelic football is that it’s a mixture of soccer and rugby. The game is split into two thirty-five minute halves. The essence of the game is similar to soccer, players do their best to get the round ball down the field to their opponent’s goal. However, in addition to kicking it, they can hold and throw it to their teammates. They are only allowed three steps before they must either pass the ball or ‘dribble’, bounce it off of their foot. It also seemed slightly less rough than rugby. Players are allowed to shove and tackle each other. The caveat there is that if the tackle is too rough in between certain lines (our young teacher was less clear about which lines she was gesturing to) the player can get in trouble and the other player is awarded a free shot. They also use yellow, red, and black cards. A player is issued a yellow card when they do anything the ref decides is worth disciplining. If a player is issued two yellow cards or a yellow and a black card, it is considered a red card and they are taken off the field and cannot be replaced by another player.
The woman seated next to me found our lessons with the girl behind us hilarious and when she noticed my accent, she was very interested in where we were from. She and her husband actually knew where Minnesota was and I had to shamefacedly admit that yes, it was very cold back home, and yes, I was cold right there. She told me her son was on the Monaghan team, which made cheering for Mayo a little awkward but there did not seem to be the bitter rivalry we would have seen in the states.
Mayo trailed Monaghan by a few points the whole match. The point system was a little different than soccer and rugby. Three points are scored if they get the ball in the goal. There are two posts on the goal, which I found similar to field goal posts. If the ball makes it between the posts, above the bar that separates the goal from the space above it, it is one point. This was how both teams made the majority of their points. Mayo never scored a goal, Monaghan got one. The final score was 12-14, or 0:12 to 1:11. They keep the goals separate from the points, so the 12 that Mayo got is just 12 but the 1 for Monaghan represents a goal and is actually 3 points. They add those to the points for a total of 14.
The Monaghan fans who had made the three and a half hour trek to Castlebar erupted in cheers when the game was called and Monaghan won, including the couple next to me. Many people swarmed onto the field as soon as the match was over. Despite the majority of people being Mayo fans, everything remained civil and the fans quickly disbursed.
The next day, we were in a local pub for the Super Bowl and many people assured us that Mayo should have won the match. It’s still early in their season, so the team had been trying out some different players. If they had put in the best players, I was told they would have definitely won.
My only question after the match: Will l be allowed to return to the US if I admit I liked Gaelic football a million times better than American football? ….
[A short video clip I took of the match. Mayo was in possession of the ball at the moment. You can see the player dribble the ball off of his foot every few steps]
Allison serves as an editor for The North Star Reports.
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