AFL not so welcome in Irish heartland
So what do the Irish really think of Aussie Rules? Having spent some time in the heart of the Irish Republic recently, I took the opportunity to find out what the Gaelic Amateur Association (GAA) fans thought about their cousin, Aussie Rules.
“It’s so violent, a ridiculous game!” claimed a 40 year old GAA obsessed mother who met her husband in the stands at a GAA game. “Sure the last time the Aussies were over, I don’t know what they were playing, or what rules. Sheer madness.”
GGA rules the roost across the midlands of Ireland, although it’s interesting to see the huge strides football (soccer) has made in recent times.
While the GAA, comprising of Gaelic football and hurling, have clubs in every town and village, football has it’s own resources – clubhouses and artificial pitches sitting less prominently but increasingly well-resourced across the land. It’s a huge improvement from thirty years ago, where schools would ban the round ball from even entering the playgrounds.
“Don’t be taking our players, we know all about you Aussies!” was the slightly less than friendly welcome as I walked into Clonad GAA Club, Co Laois, to watch the U8s playing. “Besides, there’s nothing for your Aussie Rules here tonight. The kids are only playing hurling.”
“Beware we care not what sport you play, just if the kid can run, jump and catch,” I returned.
I think he winced a little.
Even in Ireland the cashed-up AFL holds fear for those running the local games, and GAA is an amateur game at that. Discussions continued throughout the evening as parents dropped their next little Tadgh Kenneally or Jim Stynes at the clubhouse.
To most sports fans Gaelic Football and Aussie Rules are as close as you get, only League and Union perhaps confusing non-believers as much.
To the Irish, Aussie Rules is a foreign, violent game.
And this from GAA fans who give their eight years-olds a hurl – a stick for want of a better word, with which they can swing with gay abandon, it seems. And only last year they enforced their keepers to wear a small head protective unit, what about the rest of the wee bodies I protested.
“You wimp,” came the reply.
Crowds for GAA in Ireland are on the wane, newspapers reported, except for the big finals games. Of course, the huge recession probably doesn’t help in a country where Public Service pay salaries were cut 15 percent overnight earlier this year.
Great traditional Irish welcomes were laid out for a returning son, but I couldn’t help feel that the locals fondness for all things Australia was tinged these days with a slight fear – fear of the AFL stealing our boys.