GAA players come up with all kind of excuses for missing training – but being forced to go to war by Vladimir Putin is certainly a new one
That’s the reality that hit one paid-up member of the global GAA family – The Moscow Shamrocks GFC.
The Shamrocks have continued to train and play matches despite Russia being effectively treated as a pariah state akin to North Korea by the rest of the world following the invasion of Ukraine.
Founded in 2014 and now with 60 members, 45 players (including 18 women), 24 nationalities, including just three Irish players, it’s fair to say Moscow Shamrocks is not your average GAA club.
“We used to have six Irish players but three left after the start of the war,” says Dubliner Alan Moore, the Shamrock’s Chairperson/occasional player.
“We train every Tuesday and every Sunday but on Sunday two of our players were missing because of the announcement from Vladimir Putin that there would be a mobilisation of men into the army to go to Ukraine.
“It upset our players because they didn’t know until Sunday they had been called up. I knew but couldn’t say.”
“At the start of the war we lost a lot of Ukrainian members who were ordered home too.”
The 48-year-old, who speaks fluent Russian, has lived all over the world and settled in Russia full-time about a decade ago where he works as Director of the International Office at The National University of Science and Technology (MISiS) and also as a part-time sports journalist.
He lives in Russia with his wife, his 12-year-old son and his newborn baby twins.
During the World Cup in Russia in 2018 Alan was actually a FIFA commentator and got to go to all the World Cup games, including the final between France and Croatia.
A hurler with St Brigid’s, he also played for the Dublin under 18 side 30 years ago and later played for Louth’s senior side a couple of times.
He says he didn’t panic back in February when Putin launched his “special military operation” in Ukraine.
“When the war started I didn’t panic for myself because I’ve been here before – I had just moved to Saudi Arabia a few days before 9/11 took place and I was here in Russia when the war started in Crimea in 2014 and I have learned that things usually come to an end and get back to normal,” says Alan.
“All my friends and family were worried about me and asking if I’d be coming back.”
“If the rouble tanks then I’ll have to jump in the car and get out of here because I won’t be able to feed my family.
“But I am responsible for about 5,000 students who are either studying here at the university or who are on in another European country on an exchange.
“This is a hi-tech elite university and I recruited these people so I felt it would be wrong if I just packed up and left them without any support.
“The mobilisation has changed things a bit. I know students who have been called up. I think of it all and get very emotional. I remember at the start of the war I had a Ukrainian student who was back home to do his Master’s thesis.
“He was prevented from leaving Ukraine and he ended up losing his left hand in a friendly fire incident.”
Remarkably the Moscow Shamrocks are not the only GAA team in Moscow. The recently formed Seamus Heaney GAC club had to ask the famous Bellaghy poet’s family permission to use his name and present friendly city rivalry to the Shamrocks.
“The Shamrocks came about after there was an Aussie Rules match in 2012 which I played in and there was chat about starting up a GAA team, though it didn’t come to fruition until 2014,” says Alan.
“Mark Barton from Tyrone, Tom English from Limerick and a guy called Stephen McGlinchey met in Kate O’Shea’s pub in Moscow and put together the club before registering it with Gaelic Games Europe and eventually I got involved,” says Alan.
“By 2017 we were playing games in the Nordic region and then moved to the central east region which meant we were playing games closer to us in Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany.
“I remember our first ever match was in Stockholm in 2017. We were playing a team from Finland and they were a great team. They had a load of guys from Ireland who would fly over to play for them.
“I was about 43-years-old and I was playing against this young 25-year-old and I remember saying to him – ‘I saw you playing on the telly last week’.
“The clubs in other parts of Europe could attract big GAA players to come and play for them especially in the likes of places like France, Spain and Holland.
“In Moscow we couldn’t attract them so easily so we relied on training up other nationalities. And it’s been great to train them in this Irish sport and see them improve and improve. The guys from Mongolia tend to be really good because they are so hardy.”
And there’s a third team in Russia. In the city of Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Lenin, and the home of the mighty Simbirsk Celts.
Alan was the presenter of a hugely successful sports radio show on Capital FM in Moscow until death threats and wider suppression of independent media after the start of the war saw them pulled.
“It was actually fine at the start of the war,” says Alan. “There was no suppression at all. It was an English-speaking show and we would get up to 400,000 listeners and I’d have guests on just to talk about all kinds of sports.
“We’d talk about the immoral war if people wanted to talk about it and could present a strong case but we started getting death threats from people who were anti-Russia at first.
“I’d get messages telling me we were Russian propagandists because we weren’t out protesting or pulling out of Russia – we just wanted to talk about sport.
“They would tell me there was a bomb left at the university dormitory or something. And then we started getting death threats from pro-Putin supporters who believed we were foreign plants. There was quite a lot of homophobic hate mail too.
“We were the last show to broadcast in English but eventually the station decided to pull the show and go Russian.”
This copy was amended on 05/10/2022.