One thing I didn’t know about Ireland before I got here, was that the Irish have different national sports that you won’t find anywhere else.
While soccer is the most popular sport in Ireland and a lot of Irish follow the Premier League, Gaelic football and hurling are ranked on the second and third place among the most popular sports here.
I was lucky enough to go on a tour through GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) Croke Park with the Maynooth University International Summer School to learn more about their beloved sport and the 3rd largest stadium in Europe.
While Gaelic football was described to us as a mixture between football, handball, and basketball, it was explained that hurling was more of a mixture between field hockey and murder, as it is a contact sport with little protection for the players and the injury risk is very high!
A Gaelic football match and a hurling match is played between two teams of 15 players. They last for two halves of 35 minutes.
In both sports, one point can be scored by kicking or punching the ball between two large poles, which are similar to the goalposts in American football and three points can be scored by kicking the ball in the goal.
Unlike the frequent changes in soccer clubs, the players in the GAA can only (and want to) play for their home county. Furthermore, the GAA league is an amateur league, as none of the players get paid, but it is regarded as a huge honour to play for your county team.
We had a guided tour through the stadium, starting with the skywalk on the stadium’s roof and a great panoramic view over Dublin.
Then we got to see the changing rooms of the players and learned that different to everything I know from soccer, the stadium and therefore the changing rooms are neutral. Even though the stadium is in Dublin, it has no home team, the changing rooms all look the same and the stadium belongs to all teams equally.
After we had a quick look at the pitch, which is a lot larger than a soccer field, we visited the GAA museum to learn more about the history of the sports.
The next day, we came back to Croke Park to watch two Gaelic Football matches. We had great fun watching the match between Antrim and Meath, with a lot of passionate fans in the stadium and were lucky enough to see Meath, our neighbour county win.
Afterwards we had a glimpse on the match between Laois and Down.
I can say that I had a great weekend in Croke Park, and I think that I understand the Irish culture a lot better now. I can highly recommend watching a Gaelic football match, it is so different to any other sport I know.