What is it? Gaelic Football is a mixture of rugby and soccer. We play with a round ball that’s carried down the field. The game uses rugby posts, but the crossbar is a bit lower than a normal rugby post. If you get it under and into the netted goal then it’s three points. Above the bar is a single point. When you’re running with the ball, you get three steps before you’ve got to ‘solo’ it, which is dropping the ball down to your foot and kicking it back up to your hands with the top of the boot. You can’t rugby tackle anyone but, providing you touch shoulder to shoulder, you can go as hard as you want.
Back in Ireland it’s fifteen a side, but for the Gaelic Games it’s a seven a side tournament. It’s actually where Aussie Rules started out. There’s a local Aussie Rules team out here and we give them a game once a year – one half of the match is Gaelic football and the other is Aussie rules. It’s just something we do here for a bit of craic. We also put a team in for the rugby sevens, and we won the social plate by beating the Aussie Rules team in the final.
What nationalities do you get playing? Obviously, we have a lot of Irish, but we get English, Scottish, Australian. And I think everyone who goes down there for the training sees that we take it seriously, so it’s fitness, but the social aspect of the club is massive. We did have a few Emirati girls playing on the women’s team last year, but we’ve had Palestinian and Lebanese players in the past.
When do you train? Mondays and Thursdays – 6pm for the women, and 7pm for the lads. Anyone who wants to play should turn up, they’re more than welcome to join in. Annual membership is Dhs200 or you can pay Dhs20 per night. See www.dubaicelts.com for information.
What the heck is hurling? It brings together the games of baseball, a bit of cricket and a bit of hockey and tennis, to a degree. It’s very much a three-dimensional game, insofar as you have a stick (the wooden axe-shaped ‘hurl’) that’s three foot long and with that you’re hitting a ball the size of a tennis ball. Like in Gaelic football, you can run three steps before you have to ‘solo’, which is bouncing or balancing the ball off the end of the stick and back up to your hands. But when the ball is on the floor, you can hit it off the ground, hit it from hand, kick the ball, hand pass the ball and slap it with your hand as well. The posts are the same as Gaelic football and rugby, with a netted goal worth three points and a shot over the posts worth one.
It’s a bit… rough, though? Not at all, but there’s a perception out there that it is particularly rough. I think that’s because there’s a range of skills in there that, if they’re not perfected, can lead to accidents. But if you practice those skills enough you’ll find that there’s an awful lot fewer injuries than the likes of footballers get, which isn’t perceived by anybody to be a particularly dangerous game.
But the stick! Believe it or not the part of the body that is most susceptible to injury is the knee, by pulling muscles if you don’t stretch properly. But for the rest of the body, you’re wearing a helmet, shinpads and covering for the back of your hands. There’s enough protection there to stop you from lacerations from the hurl.
I’ve heard you need to be doing it from a young age? Back home it is one of those things that you learn from a young age but by no means do you have to have learned it from a young age to start. I teach hurling over at Jumeirah College Sixth Form, and the students there are all 17 or 18 and they’ve never done it before.
The call of the craic What would the Gaelic Games be without a healthy dose of social merriment? Here are the highlights.
Wed 21: The opening night is a social event held at the Rainbow Room at the Aviation Club in Garhoud, where fixtures are decided. All welcome – it starts at 7.30pm.
Fri 23: Games of Gaelic football and hurling begin at 9am at The Sevens stadium, Al Ain Road, continuing until 4pm with buses back to Dubai every hour after 4pm. Festivities continue at the Irish Village, Dhs88 entry with two free drinks and live music from The Maplejacks.
Sat 24: Games begin again at 9am, continuing until 4pm. Buses running back to Dubai every hour after 4pm. Social event in the Players’ Lounge at The Sevens stadium clubhouse from 5-8pm.