Seoul Gaels will be welcoming teams from across the country and overseas for the North Asian Gaelic Games this weekend.
The event, to be held at Namyangju Sports Center in Gyeonggi Province, marks the return of the North Asian games after a three-year hiatus.
Seoul Gaels chair Declan Griffin said that Irish sports in the region had suffered a lot after many of the Japanese players left in the wake of the problems of 2011.
While Seoul Gaels was doing well at the moment, some of the other teams would benefit from the chance to play at events like this one.
“So the idea of bringing back these games is to get more interest going in all the clubs around North Asia. And also Busan and Daegu because we want them to get more involved in the games, because if they are stronger, we are stronger,” he said.
|Seoul Gaels players (in green) vie for the ball with Shanghai Gaelic Football Club players at the All-China Gaelic Games in Shanghai in June. (Seoul Gaels)|
The tournaments will involve six men’s and six women’s gaelic football teams, mostly coming from the Seoul Gaels and the two other Korean clubs ― Laochra Busan and Daegu Fianna. Players will also be flying in from Myanmar, Japan and China, according to Griffin.
The games will also feature several exhibition matches. One is a game of hurling ― an Irish sport resembling Gaelic football in some ways, but involving a wooden paddle and smaller ball.
Griffin said that the equipment and other requirements of the game meant that hurling was not usually played in Asia, and that some of the football players in Korea were hurling players that had switched to get their Gaelic sports fix.
“We are really excited about that because usually hurling is like the secondary (Gaelic) sport. It’s always on the back foot. Gaelic football is always the main one,” said Griffin “But now we have the equipment and we have a lot of interest we are going to have a game there for sure.”
There will also be an exhibition involving the youth team that the Seoul Gaels have set up in the last few years. Originally started as a fun way of introducing the sport in combination with English practice, the youth team has since taken a trip to Ireland and even played a halftime exhibition game at Croke Park, one of Ireland’s biggest stadiums.
Griffin said that other Asian clubs also had youth teams, but Seoul’s was unusual because the team was mostly Korean children.
“In the main, kids who play at the other clubs are kids from international schools,” he said. “Our club is a bit unique because all of our kids are local Korean kids.”
He said the group was working to include children from foreign schools in Korea, and that in general the Gaelic Athletic Association ― the world body for Irish sports ― was pushing to increase youth participation outside Ireland.
“One of the main drives in Gaelic Games is development around the world,” he said. “There’s going to be a kids’ Gaelic Games tournament in Asia staring maybe next year, so there’s been a lot of support for developing kids’ projects. There are grants and funding for that too.”
The games will be held Saturday from 9:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the main stadium in the sports complex in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province.
There will also be a post-games recovery session at the Wolfhound Irish bar in Itaewon on Sunday, including live music.
By Paul Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org)