Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gaelic Football in France

Thought I'd share some extracts from a recent piece in the Sunday Times on Gaelic football in France. And it's 110% real GAA all the way...

"...Rennes are one of six gaelic football clubs in this small region of France and every single male playing member are French. It would be a mistake to think that they’re rabble outfits, just playing a different sport for variety or a means for keeping fit; in 2007, Brittany won the Shield competition at the European Gaelic Games Championships.

Although they struggled at the top level in last year’s European Games, the standard in the region is improving all the time and so is the level of competition. Liffre were only founded two years ago and they won last year’s Brittany championship. That domestic championship kicks off again on February 7th, when the first tournament of the season will be held in Vannes. Five tournaments will take place between February and the end of May, where a points system decides who is crowned champions. “The competition is very intense and it is a huge honour to win it,” says Guillaume Kerrien, a founding member of the Nantes football club.

Although there are gaelic football clubs now in every department of the region, they hope to expand the base even more. Lannion and Vannes were only founded last year and they expect a club to be up and running in Lorient before the end of this season. Two other towns have also expressed interest in forming clubs and plans have already been drawn up to form a Breton league.


Although the growth of gaelic football in Brittany in such a short time has blown away all convention, the region always had the potential to be a fertile soil for its promotion. Historically, Brittany is a very Celtic region and its people have always been acutely attuned to their Celtic identity. As well as the cultural links through the vast number of twinning relationships enjoyed between towns in Ireland and Brittany, there is also a huge student-exchange culture.

The first GAA club in Brittany was founded in Brest in 1998 by Yann Guenneguez, a Frenchman who had spent some years in Westport. The club in Rennes was set up a year later by Dan McGuigan along with Benoit Jeannin, who is still the club president. Rugby and soccer have a strong presence in the region but Gaelic football has become so popular there now that it was passed last year as a subject choice of the Bach, which is the equivalent of the Irish Leaving Certificate.

Having such a presence within the schools is a massive promotional tool. A network of PE teachers, who play gaelic football, have introduced the game to many of the schools but the crusade was effectively launched by Anne-Marie O’Rourke. From Coolkenno in Wicklow and a member of the Wicklow ladies side which won the 1990 All-Ireland Junior title, O’Rourke is the only Irish member of the Rennes club and is pretty much a one-woman GAA promotional machine.


The clubs in Brittany get some assistance from the ECB but their budget, which comes from GAA Central funding, has to stretch over 30 clubs across the whole of mainland Europe. In the last two years, 30 French people have taken GAA foundation level coaching courses and have been trained as GAA instructors, some of which are Bretons. In Rennes on Wednesday, there was a coaching session organised by the Youth Development Officer of the Federation Francaise de Football Gaelique, which effectively governs the game in the region.

Gaelic football is taking root at all levels. INSA, a third level institution in Rennes, have created their own team and they competed in the British Universities Championships last year. INSA also hosted their own gaelic football tournament, which included three British Universities.

Unlike most other Breton clubs, Ar Gwazi Gouez (Rennes) want to be associated with all forms of Irish culture and they are the strongest club in the region. Through intense fundraising and sponsorship, their self-financing potential is far greater than all other Breton clubs. “It is quite hard because we have to fund everything ourselves,” says Nantes’ Guillaume Kerrien. “It’s difficult to get financial help from the town and city councils because the sport is not nationally known or recognised by the head sporting organisations. But we have a pragmatic approach and we help each other.”

The game in Brittany will always have to survive on indigenous talent because it doesn’t have the same pulling power that attracts Irish people to other cities and regions around the world. Brittany is one of the poorest regions in France, with the minimum wage only E1000 a month...

...Sheamus Howlin, Chairman of the Overseas Work Group has attended some games in Brittany and has been “very impressed with the quality of football,” Breton championship matches are officiated by Irish referees based in Paris and every player is well aware of official rules. Even when a beach gaelic football competition was held in Pornichet last year, which featured on the TV programme The Road to Croker, the competition was still organised under the umbrella of the ECB.

The first pioneers of gaelic games in Europe date as far back as 1747, when an Irish Brigade at the Battle of Lafelt, near Maastricht, played hurling matches amongst themselves during breaks in the fighting. But the deep embedding of such a strong GAA culture in Brittany is a first because of its dominant French influence. And given how fast gaelic football is developing there, it’s unknown where it may lead to."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

125 birthday wishes for the GAA

The Herald has put together a wish-list, some tongue-in-cheek, for the GAA's 125th anniversary. Here's a few i liked from the list:

26 ...the Lilywhites unilaterally abandon the handpass. (I blame Micko)
30 That GAA officers in power finally start looking at the small picture. (I hope by that they mean the clubs)
35 That Dublin get rid of those ridiculous new jerseys before anyone mistakes them for Man City.
54 That the Meath county board gets rid of that awful accordion/snare drum CD it plays before (and sometimes during) matches in Páirc Tailteann.
60 That Dublin fans are on time every time.
65 That cowboy hats are confiscated from all supporters. Bring back the furry cap, we say! (Before the Leinster Final in 1986 I was promised one if Meath won... )
76 That Fermanagh kick the ball from their own half at least once.
102 That football boots of any colour other than black are banned.
113 That Eamon O'Brien rediscovers that long-lost species - Homo Royal Teak Tough Erectus - that once produced Lyons, Harney, Foley, etc. (They don't make Meathmen like they used to...alas)
119 That GAA club players rediscover that magical experience of playing a championship match with moulded studs on a hard pitch in the middle of summer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Keep Croker open

Why not? Just for the games when capacity requires it.

Technically, neither the IRFU nor the FAI will require Croke Park once Lansdowne Road is redeveloped but with such a huge capacity differential between the two stadiums there's a clear logic in continuing the current arrangement for major games.

Full article.

Carr says anti-Ulster agenda inspired changes

Ross Carr agrees:

Carr believes that overuse of the handpass leads to scrum-type situations on the field and he stated: "It's the handpass that needs to be looked at. The amount of handpassing is creating the problems and the one thing we can't do is take the physical confrontation out of Gaelic football.

Full story.

All-Ireland fixture change will leave teams facing five games in month

You know what this means for club footballers--if their county progresses in the qualifiers they can kiss playing football in the summer goodbye yet again. Croke Park likes to say it's forcing action on "meaningful programme of games" for club footballers but they don't really mean it. It's just blah, blah for the annual report and strategy documents.

A change to the timing of the All-Ireland football quarter-finals, combined with the return of Division 4 teams to the qualifiers, could leave some counties facing an unprecedented fixtures congestion problem this summer.

A county that progresses from the first round of the qualifiers to the All-Ireland quarter-finals will face five games in a month, between July 4 and the first weekend in August.

Full article.

Cusack's GAA vision just the tonic as reality bites

Martin mentions, but doesn't elaborate, on how exactly "the last 10-15 years undid some of the good" in the GAA. I know where I'd start...

The GAA has been an integral part of an Ireland that has changed beyond recognition over the years. Most of it was for the better, although the less savoury sides of Irish life over the last 10-15 years undid some of the good.

Ireland is now facing a new reality, one where if you believed the pessimists you wouldn't get up in the morning. It's at a time like this that the GAA can play a crucial role in lifting the nation's spirit, just as it has done over many years.

Full article.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Meath v Cork: Not a dirty game and well refereed

Maybe the Meath team of the '80's weren't such a dirty team afterall! What Gaelic football really needs is a rule limiting the number of consecutive handpasses not messing around with yellow cards.

FOR A GAME that gained a reputation for being ill-tempered, both McEnaney and Reilly agreed - while there was a certain amount of niggle - it was far from dirty. Indeed, aside from the aforementioned bookings, half of the starting 30 players emerged without so much as a ticking.

The free count at full-time was 57 - one every 72 seconds. Because frees were all taken from the ground, this slowed the game down a great deal. Every time a foul was committed it would take around 10 seconds at least before the match was under way again.
It's worth bearing in mind that 43 frees were awarded in the 2008 final, but 58 in 2007...

Aside from the disciplinary aspect of the match, there was one glaring difference between the style of football then and now. In the 2008 All-Ireland final, Tyrone and Kerry between them hand-passed the ball 205 times - a quite astonishing tally. Tyrone accounted for 110 of this total, but Kerry, known for a direct style, came not far behind on 95.

Contrast this to 1988, when Meath and Cork used the fisted pass a grand total of 73 times, with Meath - as if to underline their catch-and-kick approach - accounting for just 23 of that total. It's an amazing comparison and an interesting insight into the way the game has changed over the years.

Full article.

Fears allayed as new rules get thumbs-up

Surely it's too early to pass any judgement. Was there still physical contact? If these new rules result in the elimination of physical strength and a good hard shoulder then Gaelic Games will be the poorer for it.

DESPITE the 80 yellow cards that were flashed on the first weekend of the season, GAA officials yesterday declared the introduction of their experimental new disciplinary rules as a great success.

Full story.

GAA must resolve to stop rot of lies and deception

Hear, hear!

The continual refusal of managers and other team officers to admit to players' transgressions, the perceived obstinate stands taken by county boards and other bodies when justice is required to be dispensed and the almost indecent haste with which those who feel they have been 'victimised' have recourse to all manner of appeals and hearings committees is, at best, indicative of intransigence and, at worst, a serious blemish on the image of the GAA as a whole.

Full story.

Coney quits Swans

The traffic is not all one way!

OPPONENTS of the International Rules series were given a major boost last night when Tyrone teenage sensation Kyle Coney confirmed he was turning down a two-year contract with Sydney Swans...

"It was a once in a lifetime offer to travel to Australia and I had to go and see what it was like but the lure of coming back to play for Ardboe and Tyrone was just too much in the end."

Full Story