‘Impossible’ dreams can come true at World Games
Next month’s 2nd Etihad Airways GAA World Games are eagerly awaited by European camogs and hurlers as the event gives those who may have lost hope of playing in a final at Croke Park the chance to realize an ‘impossible’ dream.
The fast approaching tournament of Aug 7-14 at UCD and Croke Park, sees European GAA impressively represented with 14 teams in all four codes. Gaelic Football with 12 teams is in the majority while two Hurling sides and one Camogie team also feature.
The current European Hurling season is just over the halfway mark with two remaining tournaments taking place in September and October. Over the past five years in particular, hurling in Europe has been on an upward curve with 12 active clubs and a further 11 in development. While the Benelux countries of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg have been to the forefront, European GAA hurling officer, Diarmuid Kelly, says that Germany is the hot new nation when it comes to the sport’s uptake.
“Hurling is growing at a fast pace, particularly in Germany where 6 new Hurling teams have been formed in the past 4 years,” he stated.
Kelly believes that the Etihad World Games tournament will act as a catalyst to promote competition locally and also realize long lost dreams for many. “It gives a great incentive to all players to get down on the field and train with their club and attend the tournaments, which can be quite far to reach sometimes and expensive. But, to have the chance to play on the hallowed turf of Croke Park, something the players long dismissed as impossible, especially when they left home, is something players do not want to miss.”
While one of the hurling sides features an all Irish look with one reserve from Canada, the second team however is an all German affair.
Darmstadt GAA founder and current chairperson, German student Jacob Feldmann formed a hurling club at the Technische Universität in Darmstadt in 2014. The former track and field athletic went to Carlow as an exchange student in 2009 and while there fell in love with hurling.
“This is where I first got in contact with the game of hurling which I played in the garden and the neighbouring field with the children of my host family,” he said.
“I also followed the ‘All Ireland Championship’ on television and watched the games as much as I could. When I came back to Germany I had a hurl and a sliotar in my luggage and told my friends about this beautiful game.”
He found out about the European GAA County Board and procured some hurls and sliothars and ‘pucked around’ with friends, then a few years later, he moved to attend college in Darmstadt where he eventually set up an all German team.
“We became more and more players and we started to talk to the ‘sports bureau’ or ‘Sports Council’ of our university. The Sports Council ‘UniSport’ liked our idea and wanted to support the ‘exotic’ sport of hurling and made us part of their sports program in the summer of 2014,” said Feldmann.
They have since trained and played at various tournaments in Germany and Europe, and in May, the university hosted the first ever viewing of hurling in a round of the European championship.
Today there are 30 German students registered in the hurling program and training is ongoing for the World Games. Diarmuid Kelly is impressed with how hurling is appealing to young Germans.
“It’s really incredible how much time and effort the guys put in at training 2-3 times a week to try and develop their skills. You can really see improvements every week, while they also bring their own tricks onto the hurling field from other sports like Ice-hockey, Cricket, Handball, Lacrosse and Field hockey.
“To see them prepare for the trip and have a chance to play hurling in Ireland, you really see how much it means to them.”
Feldmann is happy with how things are progressing not only at his college but across Germany and he is delighted to be heading to Ireland.
“After two years the term "Hurling" starts to be known among the students here, and not only among the players but everyone, which makes me especially proud and happy. The GAA is now a little bit less unknown!
“I'm really excited [about the world games]. In the last 3 to 4 years the German GAA scene has developed a lot and especially hurling made a huge step forward. Just last year the DBGS (Deutscher Bund Gälischer Sportarten ‘German Gaelic Games Federation’) was founded.
“We are really proud to present this development and to show how much we've grown and for me personally to be part of a ‘Germany hurling team’ is a dream come true!”
There are five Camogie teams in Europe - Belgium, Germany, Holland, Luxembourg along with Zurich and an Irish expat selection will be at the games. Team player/manager Irene Kirwan says that after some hard times things are on the up and the World Games will play its part.
“After a bit of a slump, camogie in Europe is experiencing a mini-revival. The arrival on the scene of a strong team from Germany, and the re-emergence of Luxembourg under the leadership of Rachael Glynn from Galway, has led to some fantastic competitive contests this year.
“There is now a feeling that we have turned a corner and are on the right path to increasing player numbers and the number of registered clubs. I really feel that the enthusiasm the squad members have for this year’s Games cannot but rub off on their club mates and encourage their improvement and maintain their involvement.”
The squad is excited to be heading to Dublin to renew their love of the game and though competition will be stiff, they are ready to give their all.
“We are thrilled to have an opportunity to play Camogie again in Ireland, supported by friends and family.
“We know we are up against it when it comes to the inter-county experience of the Australia squad, or the coherence and achievements of the Tara club from London for example, but we just love to play, and we intend to perform as best we can and enjoy every moment.”