Every country and culture across the planet has a sport that brings people together and connects communities. In America it’s football. In most other countries it’s football (or soccer to us States people). In Canada, it’s hockey eh. As I found out during my first few weeks, Ireland’s sport is football, but yet another variation than the two I have already mentioned. Now, I have gone from not knowing this game existed, to have played it and cheered on the Dublin home team in the national finals all in the span of two weeks.
On Friday, September 30, Tony, Champlain Abroad’s Student Life Manager, took a group of us out to a Gaelic Games club to learn about Irish sports. While American kids are playing soccer, football, and baseball at age five, Irish children are learning to play hurling, Irish football, and handball. These three games are the backbone of community pride all across Ireland. A few of the older club members very patiently taught us how each of the three games are played before releasing us to duke it out in a match. Suffice to say, they probably had a good laugh or two at our expense.
Alongside teaching us about how the games are played, one of the club’s coaches also explained the cultural significance of the sports. Unlike in the US where players are bought and traded like the collectible cards their pictures are on, in Ireland the only team you are able to play for is the one in the county where you grew up. If a player is asked to join their county’s team it is considered an honor to be a representative out on the field. But the biggest difference of all…players aren’t paid. Every athlete has a year-round day job, on the season and off. Because of these two facts, people are extremely invested and proud of their hometown sports teams. It is less like cheering for a group of athletes in a game and closer to the pride felt when watching a group of warriors win a battle. The loyalty and dedication of both the team and the fans are intense.
All of this learning about and experiencing the games helped to prepare me for going to watch the Gaelic football national finals that Sunday. The game was between Dublin, our honorary home team (Up the Dubs!), and Kerry. Almost the entire Champlain group went down to a local pub to watch the game out in the community and get the full experience. If you think your dad is loud when he shouts at the football players on the TV, he is nothing compared to the Irish when their team is one point down and overtime is running out. It was incredibly fun feeling like a part of the action, even as a Dublin transplant. Attending the Gaelic Games outing helped me to better appreciate going to the match later because I not only knew how the game was played, scored, and won but how important it was to the people of Ireland. It’s an experience I cannot wait to have again when the rematch game is played in two weeks. UP the DUBS!
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