“How did you end up at an Irish football game? Do you know someone?” Our bed and breakfast host inquired.
“Just sounded like fun.”
Mike and I can appreciate the energy that comes from live sports. While traveling, we attend football, baseball and hockey games. Minor or major, it doesn’t matter to us. It’s a chance to pull up some bleacher, root for the home team and check out the local flair.
Gaelic football is probably one of the best we have seen. We happened to be in Limerick (Luimneach) for the Munster Senior Championship Quarter Finals between Luimneach and An Clare.
Gaelic football, referred to as football or Gaelic, is played between two teams of 15 players on a rectangular grass pitch. The objective of the sport is to score by kicking or punching the ball into the other team’s goal (think soccer) for three points or between two upright posts above the goal (like the extra point in NFL) for one. They keep score by tracking the goals (3 points) and points (1 point) separately, such as 1:12 (one goal, 12 points).
One of the benefits of watching a new game or even one in a foreign country is the learning curve. Mike and I showed up early for the event and watched the junior league, slowly learning how the game was played. Luckily, the stadium wasn’t packed as we talked our way through the game.
What we learned is that the players advance the football towards the goal by carrying, bouncing, kicking or hand-passing (like a volleyball serve) or self-kicking (dropping the ball and kicking it back towards you). But it has to be a combination. You can’t just run with it (like American football) or kick it (like soccer). There are also certain rules about the combination. You can bounce it twice in a row, but you can solo kick it multiple times.
Since the ball has to be in the air, bouncing or kicking, the shift of the game varies greatly. They are allowed a bit of aggressive play, such as knocking the ball out of the players hands, but there are no tackles or group pushing like rugby.
The game is fast, moving like hockey or soccer but with more scoring action. We were watching the Senior Championships and it is 70 minutes broken into two halves of 35 with a 20 minute “half time”. The clock doesn’t stop for injuries, penalties or foul shots. However, they will add time at the back end if necessary.
By the time the Senior Championship Semi-Finals started between An Clare and Luimneach, the stadium was pretty full and the fans donned their team colours (yellow and blue for An Clare and Green for Luimneach).
Unlike American football games with beer booths and nachos, Gaelic football is more of an afternoon tea and sandwiches affair. We split a ham and cheddar sandwich and sipped coffee while cheering on An Clare.
It was every bit as rowdy with banners flying when a score was made. The audience wasn’t afraid to let the players know their opinion on the kick or hand-pass. Especially if the attempt was “intercepted” by the other team. There were a few of “Oh fer f**ks sakes” uttered between bites of sammies.
After 95 minutes (five extra were added on), An Clare advances to the next round and Mike and I have developed yet another sports obsession.