On the GAA

Since moving to Ireland almost three years ago I have (somewhat unexpectedly) become a fan of GAA and regularly watch both hurling and Gaelic football on the TV, which is quite often.

Ireland is very keen on sports generally, with big followings for both rugby and soccer but, at least in terms of attendances, hurling and Gaelic football are by far the most popular sports in Ireland. That’s quite remarkable because these are entirely amateur games. One of the great things about the GAA is that it’s a real grass roots organization, where even games between local clubs can attract very big crowds. (I’m talking about the pre-Covid era there, obviously.) The players tend to be local and there’s a strong involvement of the community in the local clubs.

Hurling is my favourite GAA sport – the level of skill on display is truly awesome and it’s played at an amazingly fast tempo – but I do watch the football when I can too and am more gradually getting into it. Incidentally, these two sports are played on the same pitches with the same goals and the same number of players on each side (15) and have basically the same rules – with a player’s hurley (stick) in hurling being in one-to-one correspondence as far as the rules are concerned with a player’s foot in Gaelic football. The ball of course is bigger in football; the small one used in hurling is called a sliotar. Scoring is the same in both: 1 point getting the ball between the two posts over the bar as in rugby and a goal (3 points) for getting the ball into the back of the net below the bar.

I took a break in the early afternoon yesterday to watch the All Ireland Quarter Final match in the hurling between Galway and Tipperary, an entertaining match played in fine weather which was won by Galway 3-23 to 2-24. Later on, I settled down to watch the Leinster provincial final between Dublin and Meath live from Croke Park in the evening. Given that this match was on the same day as Bloody Sunday it was preceded by a solemn commemoration of those that died a hundred years ago which I thought was beautifully done. Here’s a video tribute made by the GAA itself, played at the end of the pre-match commemoration along with specially-composed music.

After the match there was a wreath-laying ceremony involving the players which was unfortunately spoiled on the television broadcast by a commentator who talked all the way over it.

The match itself was a very one-sided affair, which was effectively all over by half time (when the score was Dublin 2-12 Meath 0-2). It ended Dublin 3-21 Meath 0-9, which is a margin of 21 points: quite a thrashing for Meath. I’m not an expert, but the Dublin side were far more mobile and inventive than Meath and thoroughly deserved their win.

There wasn’t a crowd of course. I think the commemorative event would have been even more emotional if there had been. Watching the actual match though it struck me that we’re all getting used to watching sport in an empty stadium. It’s probably going to take some getting used to the noise when (if) live audiences eventually return.

UPDATE: Tipperary beat Cork in Munster final this afternoon to win it for the first time in 85 years. The team were wearing replica jerseys of those worn by the Tipperary team that played Dublin in 1920.

After all the provincial finals, including a surprise win for Cavan over Donegal in Ulster, the four teams in the semi-finals of the All Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2020 is exactly the same as it was in 1920. The final, between Dublin and Tipperary, was not played until 1922.

(The match played on Bloody Sunday was a Challenge Match not part of the Championship.

5 Responses to “On the GAA”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Hurling is a brilliant sport. Hockey with the boring restrictions removed. Decades ago Channel 4 used to show the annual all-Ireland final and I always watched.

    • telescoper Says:

      This year’s final is actually going to be on December 13th, at Croke Park, the schedule being much altered owing to Covid-19. The semi-finals will be next weekend (28th/29th November) between Kilkenny & Waterford and Limerick & Galway respectively. You can probably watch the final on a live stream if you can’t find it on one of the sports channels.

  2. Hurling is indeed a brilliant sport, a pity it never caught on anywhere else. The GAA plays an important role in Irish society, especially in the more rural parts. However, there is more to this than sport – a great deal of politics and national identity is also involved. For example, many secondary schools discourage any other sports. Worse, a huge proportion of govt funding for sports goes to the GAA, with very little left over for other sports. Politicians outside of Dublin quickly learn that vocal allegiance to the GAA is mandatory for anyone with real ambition. If evidence was ever required that GAA enjoys a status far above other sports in Ireland, note that that tennis clubs and golf courses are currently firmly shut, while county GAA matches continue unabated, despite evidence of several superspreader events

    • At least there are now no crowds at the GAA matches, after some serious violations of social distancing at events earlier this year. It looks to me like the GAA matches are held under the same restrictions as the rugby (Pro14) and soccer.

  3. No, rugby and soccer were elite games only during the lockdown. All GAA intercounty matches continued as normal

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