OpinionPat Spillane

GAA can go global now

KERRY GOLD: Pat Spillane's festival success gave Argentina their first world title since the 1986 World Cup
KERRY GOLD: Pat Spillane's festival success gave Argentina their first world title since the 1986 World Cup

‘And there’s Adam, Bono and Garret Fitzgerald,

Gettin’ their photos taken for the Sunday World.
The multitudes, they flocked in throngs
To hear the music and the songs.
Motorbikes and Hi-ace vans.
With bottles-barrels-flagons-cans.
Mighty craic. Loads of frolics.’

Those classic lines are taken from Christy Moore’s memorable hit song Lisdoonvarna’.

Last weekend I experienced my own version of Lisdoonvarna. Close your eyes and picture the scene... 

A police pipe band playing an Irish song! And it wasn’t the NYPD band playing Galway Bay.

Instead it was the Abu Dhabi Police Band belting out O’Donnell Abu in the blazing sun as they led 28 GAA teams out on the field.

I saw teams from South Africa and the Middle East playing a football match. As Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh might say: neither noted football strongholds!

Then we had a final featuring a team from Argentina and the Galicia region of Spain. The stars were Scelo Mlongo,  Aberto Suanre Toucda and Gaston Lopez Sole. Mad Stuff! 

Another few lines borrowed from Christy captured the atmosphere…

‘This is heaven, this is hell. 

Who cares? Who can tell?

Anybody for the last few of the choc ices, now?’

But what happened at the first ever World GAA Games held in Abu Dhabi last weekend was all real. And just to add to the craziness I ended up managing the Argentinean team!

The event was a huge success. Hopefully it will signal the beginning of a move to popularise Gaelic games – particularly football – on a global basis.

I have long held the view that GAA clubs are providing the glue which keeps struggling rural communities in Ireland functioning.

It is no different abroad, regardless of whether we’re talking about New York, London, Brussels, Singapore or Sydney.

The GAA is the glue that keeps our diaspora together and enables them to retain their love of Irish culture.

But what happened last weekend was way beyond just uniting the diaspora. For the first time ever an international GAA competition was staged for both sexes, which featured teams from Argentina, Galicia, Canada and South Africa, who were primarily composed of non-nationals.

It was fascinating to watch these players in action. The majority of them  have never set foot in Ireland. 

It was fascinating to observe their exuberance when they won and their despair when beaten. It could have been the aftermath of a county final anywhere in Ireland.

This world festival portrayed all that is good about the GAA: enjoyment, participation, a great social element and some wonderful skill. 

Whereas negativity is the dominant feature of many Gaelic football games at home, the football played in this tournament radiated positivity.

The skill levels of the non-Irish players was excellent. They were particularly good at hand passing, though not as proficient at kick passing.

They did struggle with the pick-up, which to be honest adds nothing to the game as a spectacle and should be scrapped.

All the games were nine a side and played on a rugby pitch measuring 100 metres by 60. Maybe there is food for thought there for the GAA!

There was plenty of space, lots of kick passing and no shortage of scores.  There was hand passing, but the key difference was that in the nine-a-side game the hand pass was used to propel the ball forward as quickly as possible. At home the big problem is that it is used as a means of keeping possession.

As the GAA tweeted last weekend, I managed Argentina to win their first world title since 1986! The panel consisted of 11 Argentinians and one Irishman from Kilkenny − the only county where Gaelic football is not taken seriously. 

They were the only team in the competition that had never played a game of Gaelic football. Some were third or fourth generation Irish and none of them could speak English. But boy were they passionate about the game. 

Of course, the big difficulty I encountered was communicating. Some might suggest that it is difficult to understand a Kerry accent anyway! I issued my instructions in English and they were translated into Spanish by my Kilkenny friend Michael Connery, from Dunnamaggin. 

My team talk was distilled into a dozen key words: pressura, (pressure), pateala (kick the ball), no ases con lamano (no hand passes) and vamos chicos (come on lads). 

Now that I have a world title in my management CV maybe I might have a better chance of securing  a GAA job the next time I apply for one in Kerry. 

Being a guest at the inaugural world GAA Festival was a humbling and memorable experience. Everything great about the GAA was evident in Abu Dhabi. 

We got a glimpse of the potential of the GAA worldwide. Well done to all.