You could be forgiven for thinking that to watch any sporting competition with the designation “All Ireland” you’d have to take a trip to Dublin and beyond, but Gaelic Football was actually one of the leaders of the current trend to play matches in your national championship overseas. Indeed, they’ve gone further and established clubs outside the Emerald Isle itself, several of which are based in and around London. Of those, the one that keeps rising to the top is Tir Chonaill Gaels, based in Greenford, who this Sunday will attempt to advance to the semi-finals of the AIB All-Ireland club championship.
Gaelic Football is played between two teams of 15 using a heavier, soccer-style ball, a pitch slightly longer than rugby size and hybrid soccer/rugby goals. You can score one point by kicking the ball over the crossbar and between the uprights as in rugby or you can try for three points by getting it past the goalkeeper as in soccer.
The ball may be “soloed” down the field by kicking it into your own hands at least once every four steps or you may pass the ball by kicking or hitting the ball with the side of your closed fist, but definitely NOT by throwing. Tackling is allowed to be robust, but must not involve pushing, striking, sliding or tripping. The ball may be slapped out of your grasp, but only with one hand and shots may not be blocked by feet.
Tir Chonaill Gaels’ quarter-final fixture will take place at the Ruislip Emerald Grounds (200 yards north of the Polish War Memorial roundabout on the A40) with the throw-in set for 1:30pm on Sunday and a stiff task is in prospect as the visitors are current holders Crossmaglen Rangers whose most recent victory was their fourth in the competition’s 37 year history. Although hundreds of clubs enter each year, a place in the quarter finals is always reserved for the winners of the London Senior Football Championship, first played for in 1897. Tir Chonaill Gaels have won this a joint-record ten times since their formation in Kilburn’s Red Lion pub in 1962, but they have so far failed ever to get past this first hurdle in the All Ireland. Indeed, London is one of 11 territories out of 33 that have never provided an All Ireland club champion. If they can prevail on Sunday, and then in the semi-final, a showpiece, televised climax awaits the Gaels in Dublin’s famous Croke Park stadium on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th.
Picture via Irish Philadelphia Photo Essay’s Flickr stream.