This weekend promises to be the biggest yet in European GAA as 700 players from 45 countries take part in five tournaments spread across the continent, from the green fields of France to the “calcio” pitches of Italy.
“Our games are growing at a staggering rate, and it is no longer just an Irish phenomenon – Europeans are really taking the games to their hearts,” says Brian Clerkin, PRO of the European County Board.
The gospel of Gaelic games has now spread to 70 competitive clubs in 20 different countries, with a further 20 clubs in development in towns and villages throughout Europe.
“The ex-pats who set up these clubs away from home are giving way to a new breed of player, drawn from the local regions,” says Clerkin. “In some cases, as much as 50% of the players are non-Irish, but to look at them you’d never know, given the level of commitment and skill.”
One such example is Raffaello Franco, President and Founder of Rovigo GAA (pictured above), the first GAA club in Italy.
Raffaello came to Ireland for his honeymoon two years ago and went to Croke Park for a game - he left Ireland with an O’Neills ball and a dream to set up his own GAA club in Italy, and two years in to his project and his team about 90% Italian players are going from strength to strength as they embrace every code that GAA has to offer.
In its short history, the club have had a Poc Fada competition and tested handball, and have even trained their own GAA referees - in Italian. They finished third in their first-ever tournament, and with the dedication and passion the future looks very bright indeed.
Raffaello has said that he is fascintated and obsessed with the sport he calls it “a very complete game, a challenging game and both a physical and tactical test” (Raffaello Franco, President and Founder Rovigo GAA, Rovigo, Italy).
“These massive success stories could not happen without the love or passion that the people in Europe have for Gaelic games. Every week we see stories that show us you don’t have to be born in Ireland or brought up with the games to be good at them or have a love for them,” says Clerkin, a veteran of European GAA.
“The commitment, sacrifice, dedication and participation is the same as any club back home. The clubs may be a little smaller but they are true trailblazers creating a presence and exposing new sports to new lands and new people all the time ”
This weekend will see tournaments in Gothenburg, Padova, Luxembourg, Vienna and Ploufragan.
Photo: The attached picture shows the players of Padova (in white) and Rovigo GAA, with the Italian referees in the middle.