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Dubai Éire Óg  are a remarkable overnight success story

Dubai Éire Óg juvenile GAA club already coach almost 200 children after just two years in existence. 

Dubai Éire Óg juvenile GAA club already coach almost 200 children after just two years in existence. 

By John Harrington

Dubai Éire Óg have been in existence for just two years, but already they coach almost 200 children on a weekly basis.

Such is the enthusiasm of the coaches, children, and parents involved, that they estimate their numbers will grow somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent every year for the next three years.

The phenomenal growth of Gaelic games outside of Ireland is being accelerated by an explosion in the number of children playing the sports, and Dubai Éire Óg offer vivid proof that, if you build it, they will come.

“We were originally affiliated with a club called the Dubai Celts but last year we set up Dubai Éire Óg because we felt it had got to the point where a juvenile club needed to stand on its own,” says club Chairperson, Seamus O’Sullivan.

“So we took the decision that we would set up a juvenile club in Dubai and as our players progressed through they could go and play for whichever adult club they chose.

“Traditionally people have come to the Middle East and you get a lot of teachers and younger, single people without families. As they get a bit older and they have kids they have tended to migrate back towards Ireland.

“We just found there were more and more families staying here. We had a lot of teachers involved in the club and they would have known a lot of Irish kids going through the school system so we just felt the time was right to set up juvenile club within Dubai and it also gave us that bit of autonomy to allow us to engage with sponsors and set up a club specifically for kids.

“That was the thinking behind it. We didn't know exactly where we were going to go in terms of numbers. In the first year we were just over 100 kids which was fantastic.

“This year we're up to about 170 kids. At the tail end of last year we set up a nursery section which was fantastic for us.

“We identified there were parents coming down with younger siblings so we set up something that's a bit like a Kindergarten, really, but they're out and about and they're enjoying themselves and there's another 30 or so kids in that group as well so we're getting close to 200 kids.

“Obviously you need to make sure you're engaging with the kids because over here it's very competitive. You'd have a lot of different soccer clubs and soccer academies, rugby is quite popular. Then you have your various other things like athletics and there's just a lot of competition for kids' time and attention.

“We realised quite early that unless we were completely on the ball we weren't going to grab the attention of kids. Obviously you need to be able to sell yourself to the parents as well because they're ultimately the ones sitting in to their cars and dropping the kids. Without parents the whole thing doesn't work.

"That side of it was a bit of a challenge at the start but we were lucky we had a lot of very, very enthusiastic people. We have over 40 coaches involved now which is fantastic for us.”

Dubai Éire Óg U-12 players pictured taking part in a Middle East GAA tournament. 

Dubai Éire Óg U-12 players pictured taking part in a Middle East GAA tournament. 

Dubai Éire Óg have welcomed children from many different backgrounds, not just Irish.

By coaching the games in some local schools they’ve introduced Gaelic football to children of a variety of different nationalities, and hope to do the same with hurling in the not too distant future.

“We're lucky enough we have teachers in some of the more prominent schools and what they run for the kids is what they call extra-curricular activities (ECAs),” says O’Sullivan.

"They're kind of obliged to put on these and our Irish teachers have volunteered to run Gaelic games ECAs within the schools.

“This year we've managed to get football into five primary schools and four secondary schools and we already have a few more schools lined up for next year.

“We've managed to push that and what we've found is we've got a few more kids on the back of that.

“We take it for granted in Ireland but it is a great sport and it's actually quite good for the kids in so far as some of the sports here can be quite competitive.

“We'd be a bit more inclusive in terms of what we try to do because we don't have as much of a competitive edge to it.

“We do have some neighbouring clubs in Abu Dhabi and the Middle East County Board have been very good in arranging two tournaments this year, one in Qatar and one in Sharjah where all the clubs in the Middle East got together.

“But we're following the Go Games model and the majority of our kids would be under the age of 12 so scores aren't kept. In this part of the World sport can be quite competitive and cut-throat in terms of the way they grade kids, but we don't do that, and we found the parents quite like that aspect of it.”

Dubai Éire Óg cater for both hurling and football. 

Dubai Éire Óg cater for both hurling and football. 

Establishing a juvenile Gaelic games club in Dubai comes with some logistical challenges, most especially hiring pitches which is a big cost outlay for Dubai Éire Óg, so funding from the Global Games Development Fund has been vital.

“For two years in a row we’ve also been supported with grants by the Global Games Development Fund which meant that this year we were able to start a midweek session for the older kids," says O'Sullivan.

“It costs a lot of money to hire a pitch here, anything between €250 and €300, so we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the Global Games Development Fund grant.

“We’re growing quickly but that brings its own challenges and it looks like looks like we're going to outgrow our current training venue.

“We're never going to turn kids away, it's as simple as that. we're always going to find a way to get them to come down and train and do whatever we have to do to make that work.

“We've had quite a lot of help too from the Leinster Council who have sent coaches over here.

“Lloyd Colfer came over from Wexford just coaching our coaches which is always a challenge for us and he did a fantastic job. We’ve had great help too from Leinster GAA’s Jamie Queeney and William Harmon last year did some online courses for us.

“We're always looking for any literature on best practices that are there, and just ways of improving ourselves and the guys have been excellent in terms of the support that they've given us.”

Dubai Éire Óg have quickly created a vibrant social community for children and adults alike. 

Dubai Éire Óg have quickly created a vibrant social community for children and adults alike. 

Dubai Éire Óg aren’t just providing a sporting outlet for their young members, in a very short time they’ve also created a vibrant social community for children and adults alike that is quickly going from strength to strength.

“My personal motivation to get involved was that I have a seven-year-old and five-year-old both of who are involved in the club,” says O’Sullivan. “For me it was really important that the kids got a chance to play GAA.

“I've played it all my life as well as we get a huge amount of enjoyment out of it, that's the reality of it.

“It gives the kids a great outlet and part of our logic behind it was that when kids do go back to Ireland, and the nature of the Middle East is that people are coming and going all the time, when they go back to Ireland they have an instant link back into a community because they've played GAA rather than going back and maybe not understanding anything about it.

“One of the things we looked at as we set up the club was that at least it would make it easier for kids to settle in a new community and make friends when they went back to Ireland. And, equally, people moving out to Dubai, they would have an easy link into a community here. That side of it has worked pretty well.

“Ability and all of that stuff, that kind of comes second. We've found that with families coming and going they've found a really easy link for their kids to make friends and equally for the adults to make friends.

“We've made so many friends out of it which is a typical GAA thing really. Sometimes when you leave home those traditions get even stronger."

More information on Dubai Éire Óg can be found here - https://dubaieireog.com/