Stockholm Gaels extend hand of frienship on GAA National Inclusive Fitness Day
By John Harrington
Stockholm Gaels are just one of many GAA clubs around the World who are taking part in the inaugural GAA National Inclusive Fitness Day on Wednesday.
The event aims to promote sport and physical activity to everyone regardless of age, sexual orientation, ability, ethnicity, nationality, or fitness level.
For Stockholm Gaels, it’s an ideal opportunity to extend the hand of friendship and invite people to try Gaelic Football who know little or nothing about the sport.
“We're always trying to find new players so what our Ladies team is planning for Wednesday is to have a beginner's session for new players,” Stockholm Gaels Club secretary, Jessica McKenna, told GAA.ie
“We'll be asking our current players to bring a friend or co-worker to our field and we'll put on some basic drills.
“Some of our more experienced girls who are not Irish will take charge of the drills and then we'll have small-sided games against each other.”
More and more GAA clubs are being established outside of Ireland every year.
In the past GAA clubs abroad tended to draw most of their members from Irish expats, but the growing trend we’re seeing now is that people of all nationalities are being brought into the fold, and Stockholm Gaels are no different.
“This year we have our numbers up quite high, I think we have around 20-25 on the Ladies Football team,” says McKenna.
“Of those, I would say 60 per cent would be Irish and 40 per cent Swedish and other nationalities. We have Swedish, Finnish, Spanish, and Chinese, a great mix, which is quite nice.
“It's important for clubs like ours to get as many locals involved as we can. You can build a club with Irish people but there's always a chance that many of them will leave to go back to Ireland.
“So it's a lot better to build a club with people you know will be around for a long time. Then you won't just have a club for one year, you'll have a club for as long as you want.”
Like all the other international clubs who have opened their arms in welcome, Stockholm have discovered that non-Irish are quick learners when they’re given the opportunity to try Gaelic Games.
“Most of them picked up it up quite quickly,” says McKenna. “The soloing has always been the most difficult to try to teach, but a lot of them picked it up quite fast. Even the girl from China, she had a background in netball, and she picked it up even though she had no idea what Gaelic Football was, she hadn't even seen it on YouTube.
“She just showed up one day saying she heard we played a team sport and was hoping she could try it.
“And she's picked it up very, very fast. It's really nice to watch people like that who have never played our sport or even a team sport of any kind and pick it up very quickly.”
The International GAA clubs offer more than just a sporting outlet for their members.
It’s as much about feeling like you’re part of a community and benefiting from the networking that goes hand in hand with that as it is anything else.
“I came out here straight out of University and didn't know anyone,” says McKenna. “I joined the GAA club within the first three days and I automatically had a family out here then.
“People would find out you'd just moved here and they couldn't do enough to help you in whatever way they could. It was just a really good network to connect with. And it's the same for anyone who's not Irish who joins our club.
“Hopefully on Wednesday we can convince a few more people to join us. Two weeks ago we met up with an AFL club that was set up here for ladies and we did an international rules game so a few of those are coming down to us on Wednesday and will hopefully join us as well.”