In this week's post, Brandon visits Croke Park and writes about two beloved Irish sports: Gaelic football and hurling.
Here in Ireland there are two especially popular, national sports: Gaelic football and hurling. Before coming to Dublin, I had never heard of either, but apparently, they are the most popular and common sports in the country. One Dubliner put it as, "Every county may have a rugby team, but every village has a hurling and Gaelic football team."
Holding a replica of the Sam Maguire Cup in Croke Park, which is the trophy awarded to the winner of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. Our guide said that "this cup is what every Irish child goes to bed dreaming of after playing a game of football."
Gaelic football is played on a rectangular field between two teams of fifteen players. The object of the game is to move the spherical ball up the field by carrying, kicking, bouncing, passing, and soloing (which is a difficult skill involving toe-kicking the ball back up to oneself). The goal is shaped identically to a rugby goal, with three points being scored if you get it through the opposing team's two uprights and one point being scored if you hit it over the crossbar.
Hurling is over 3,000 years old and is the fastest field sport in the world. Much like in Gaelic football, teams of fifteen move a small ball down the field using wooden sticks called hurleys through a combination of balancing the ball on their sticks, carrying, hitting, and kicking. Once again, as in Gaelic football, three points are scored if you hit the ball under the crossbar and one point is scored if you hit the ball over the crossbar.
This wall lists all of the hurling and Gaelic football teams (along with their coat of arms) in Ireland and beyond. There is an entire section devoted to those in England, South America, and the U.S.
During our CAPA-provided tour of Croke Park in Dublin, we were told how Gaelic football and hurling are amateur sports. This means that no players or coaching staff can make any salary from participation in the sport. The entire operation is run on the love for the game and the opportunity to win glory for your home village, town, or county. I find this to be extremely commendable in a world where sports players receive excessive earnings in the millions. I cannot imagine any American football players, basketball players, or other sports figures devoting their lives and schedules to a sport in which they never received a penny for their hard work. Although it is true that some especially famous players may make a small salary from endorsements or advertising, our guide at Croke Park told us that all of the players in Gaelic football or hurling have very normal lives outside of the sport, working regular jobs, going to college, etc...
A picture of me and the official jersey of Galway, who are not only (technically) my home team, but also won the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship last year for the first time in over 20 years.
In addition to not receiving an income for playing, it is strictly forbidden in Ireland to play on any Gaelic football or hurling that is not your home village or county. For instance, if one was born in Galway, you could only play hurling for Galway. There are no trades in these Irish sports. You play for your home or not at all. I think this mentality perfectly reflects the sense of belonging that I have found in my short time in Ireland. Everyone is loyal to and proud of where they come from, and this is seen in their rules around native sports.
A view of Croke Park from the highest stands in the stadium. Croke Park is the third largest sports stadium in Europe, and one can see the entirety of Dublin and out to the Wicklow Mountains from these higher stands.
I was invited to watch one of the security guards at Griffith College, Shane, play Gaelic football for his village team in Bray on Saturday, but the bus took far longer than expected and I missed the match. It was not a total loss, however, as I was officially offered a place on Shane's Gaelic football team if I decided to play. Although I was not born in Shane's village and should technically have to play for Galway (where my Irish ancestors hail from), his village only has a few hundred people and their sports teams are therefore in desperate need of fresh recruits. This sort of opportunity echoes both the openness of Irish culture, which embraces outsiders, and the opportunities afforded by the CAPA program by putting students in touch with locals such as Shane and giving a once-in-a-lifetime tour of Croke Park.
I hope you enjoyed my blog post about Irish sports, and I look forward to writing more about my experiences next week!
Brandon's journey continues every Friday so stay tuned.