Football may be in the name, but Gaelic football is very much distinct from the traditional rules of the beautiful game. The Groninger Gaels is the first Gaelic football club in the region, and midfielder Jack Barrett says that with a men’s and women’s team, the club’s philosophy is “the more the merrier”.
The Northern Times: So, first things first: for those who may be unfamiliar with the sport, what is Gaelic football?
Jack Barrett: People sometimes describe Gaelic Football a mixture of a lot of sports. You can punch the ball like a volleyball serve, you can “hop” [dribble] the ball like in a basketball game, you can kick goals like soccer and you can punt kick the ball like Australian rules football. In fact, because of the similarities between Gaelic football and Australian rules football Australian teams have scouted and recruited some of the most talented young Gaelic footballers in Ireland.
|Rules of Gaelic football
In a Gaelic football match, you play two halves of 35 minutes and there is lots of space to move around the pitch. Teams are made up of one goalkeeper, six defenders, two midfielders and six forwards. The goalposts are like rugby goalposts, but the goal has a net and is protected by the goalkeeper like in soccer. The game is played with a round ball. Kicking the ball over the goal and between the posts is one point and kicking the ball in the net past the goalkeeper is three points. To pass, you can either do a punt kick or a hand pass by hitting the ball with the palm of your hand. Throwing the ball is not allowed. When running with the ball, you can take four steps between each play. After the four steps you can either dribble or “hop” the ball or solo the ball (a kick pass to yourself). A hop must be followed by a solo. It is a contact sport and shoulder to shoulder contact is permitted, but rugby style tackling is not permitted. If there is a foul, a free kick is awarded. Penalties are also awarded if a player is fouled inside the goalkeeper’s box.
TNT: How long have you been playing it? What position(s) do you play?
JB: I have been playing Gaelic football since about the age of 7. I always seemed to have a Gaelic football in my hands growing up and I was constantly practicing my skills. I play midfield usually on my Gaelic football team. The midfield position involves a lot of running, catching and kick passing to your forwards. Midfields are typically tall and athletic, and midfield is my favourite position as you have the must freedom on the pitch and you can attack as well as defend.
TNT: How popular is it outside of Ireland?
JB: Gaelic is very popular outside Ireland and it is growing quickly across Europe. It started in Europe in 1999 with only five clubs, but there are now over 80 clubs and more than 3,000 players in many countries across the continent. There are only a few clubs in the Netherlands though: there are four other men’s teams, and just one other ladies team.
|Teams outside Ireland
Gaelic football is growing in popularity across Europe, and some larger countries have dozens of different men’s and women’s teams. France and Spain each have 21 teams, and Germany has 11. With the introduction of Groningen Gaels, the Netherlands has seven teams altogether. According to the European Gaelic Athletic Association Clubs site, other European countries with their own Gaelic football teams are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland and Sweden.
TNT: What drew you to Groningen specifically?
JB: Groningen is renowned across Europe for its high quality of education and a student life that is second to none, that’s why after our first year studying over here we were so enthusiastic about starting this club in a city that we knew would welcome us with open arms.
TNT: How did the idea to start a club in the northern Netherlands come about? Is there enough interest in the city, or the region, to get a club going?
JB: The idea came about when I and a group of Irish class mates started studying at the Hanze, none of us knew each other before arriving in Groningen, but we became good friends and eventually asked, “why are there so many Irish people here, and none of us are playing one of the sports we love most!” [editor’s note: there are currently 68 Irish students enrolled at the Hanze] We thought that it would be brilliant if we could establish a club to bring us together to play our national sport, and also build something that will last beyond our time here, and serve the same purpose for the next generations of Irish international as it does for us.
TNT: How many other teams are there in the Netherlands? Are you guys already scheduled to play against any of them?
JB: With the addition of our Men’s and Ladies teams, there are five men’s teams and two ladies teams in the country. We don’t have any immediate 1 on 1 fixtures with them, but we have entered into a tournament in Maastricht for all teams across Europe on the 20th of October. There will be over 50 teams in attendance and more than 600 players from all across Europe.
TNT: Are you guys looking for players? Do people who are interested need to know how to play in order to try out or can you guys show them the ropes?
JB: Yes! We are always looking players, the more the merrier we always say! Anybody who is interested is more than welcome to join us, whatever their ability or experience with the sport!
TNT: How can interested people get involved?
JB: We train every Friday evening in the Stadspark in Groningen, and anybody who is interested in playing please get in touch with us via our Facebook page, or feel free to message us on Instagram. At the moment we have a lot of players already interested but at the moment we are unsure of exact numbers for the tournament! We hope to play a number of matches throughout the season after this tournament so we will be looking for member for the whole foreseeable future!