Enter the Dragon - First All Chinese team for World Games
There is an ever-increasing tide of non- Irish taking up Gaelic Games. Be it Gaelic footballers from Brittany in France or China, the idea of the games’ globalization, though young, is nonetheless real.
The second installment of the GAA World Games in Dublin, August 7-14, defines this new dynamic as over 60 teams will do battle at UCD with many non-Irish teams representing their country. Exemplifying the vibrant internationalization of GAA, Irish people will witness for the first time an All Chinese team playing Gaelic Football.
The team is a men’s squad of Chinese university students from the Beijing Dublin International College (BDIC) - the institute is a partnership between Beijing University of Technology (BJUT) in China and University College Dublin.
The project began in 2014 when Irish vice principal, Dr. Ailish O’Halloran, encouraged by her Chinese colleagues to give the students a sense of Irish culture, proposed introducing Gaelic football into the Physical Education curriculum. The local Beijing GAA club and its then chairperson, Galway native Colm Walsh along with former Tipperary hurler Stephen Lillis were asked to lead the program.
After a presentation on the games, the GAA and its cultural significance, training began with almost 50 taking part in sessions that September. Some of the students picked up football straight away particularly those who had played sports before.
In June 2015, the team made history in becoming the first Chinese team to compete at the All China GAA Games. One female student who had trained with the team played with the Beijing Ladies side.
“They were very proud that they were going to be the first Chinese Gaelic football team to ever participate at the All China Games,” said Walsh.
They scored in all their games and improved through the tournament. Later they went to the premier regional event, the Asian Gaelic Games in Shanghai and again competed well.
Since then the numbers have remained steady with first year’s taking to the game immediately. Word is starting to spread across the university, so as well as attracting people who have not participated in any type of sport before the project is now seeing an increase in students who have played other sports.
Walsh feels that the program will be good for Beijing GAA and he is honoured to be associated with the team’s participation at the World Games.
“These students, while not all from Beijing, will work and live here for many years to come and will hopefully become integral parts of the club.
“To think that we will have the first All Chinese native team competing at the World Games is an honour and we cannot wait to bring the team to Ireland.”
Vice college principal, Dr. Ailish O’Halloran, is particularly pleased with how the project has gone.
“I’m delighted with how things have turned out - much better than I could have anticipated,” she stated.
“I have seen a marked benefit in all the students who have taken part in BDIC Gaelic Football training. They’ve also gotten a great insight into the community spirit GAA brings to a group both in Beijing and in Asia. One student commented that they had learned ‘what it means to be a team’”.
The squad was only recently informed of their World Games participation as a lot of work behind the scenes had to be accomplished to make it a reality.
“They realise that playing Gaelic football on another continent is an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often so they are very excited to be part of this,” the college vice principal said.
“We often try to explain or replicate many Irish traditions for them such as our language and music but experiencing it first-hand is something they are genuinely looking forward to.”
The students themselves are enjoying Gaelic football and eagerly await the trip to the World Games in Ireland:
Xuanhui Xu (captain) - “I’m really fond of playing with team mates. I love catching the ball and soloing. Gaelic Football is really fun! I think going to Ireland will be wonderful and hope to meet Irish friends. I think it will be tough but a very good experience for us.”
Xingyu Pan - “Our team is young and energetic but not as good as the Irish teams. Gaelic football is now part of our lives – we love that. This is a great opportunity for us to improve our skills. We’re excited to go to Ireland to show Irish people that Chinese people can play Gaelic Football.”