More than Just a Gaelic Football Club
Will Peters, Chairperson of the Gibraltar Gaels, came to Gibraltar four years ago and like many others hadn’t heard much about Gaelic football. “I didn’t know any of the rules,” he says “but I was encouraged to join the Gaels by a group of friends and I really enjoyed the team spirit and eventually I became hooked.”
Heralded as Ireland’s most popular sport, Gaelic football is one of the sports that is included in the “Gaelic games” (along with hurling, Gaelic handball, and rounders), which is controlled by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), however, you don’t have to be Irish to join the Gibraltar Gaels. “We have got approximately sixty members over both the men and women’s teams with a massive mix of nationalities including Irish, Danish, Spanish, Gibraltarian, English, Welsh, Scottish, Portuguese and Slovakian,” Will states. There are also plans in the pipeline to set up a kid’s team and potentially a mini league in Gibraltar in a few years’ time.
The club was formed in 2011 by a group of Irish ex-pats, Séamus Hayes, Ollie Gotmann and Peter Goulding, and has grown massively since its inception with the addition of the women’s team a couple of years ago. Next year will be its tenth anniversary and Will hopes that they will be able to celebrate, if restrictions allow, with a big event to include an open day.
One question often asked is how is Gaelic football different to football. “The rules are completely different and it is like a mix between basketball, rugby and football all in one,” Will explains. “In Ireland it is a 15v15 format played on a pitch that is 40% longer than a football pitch, but over here we play 11v11 because of the small pitch sizes.”
The aim of the game is to put the ball in your opponents’ net (worth three points) or between the posts and above the crossbar (for one point). Will explains that you can move the ball along the pitch by either kicking it out of your hands, along the ground or passing it to a team-mate by hitting it with your fist. With the ball, you can only run a maximum of four steps after which the ball must be either bounced or “solo-ed”, an action of dropping the ball onto the foot and kicking it back into the hand. You may not bounce the ball twice in a row. To score, you put the ball over the crossbar by foot, hand or fist for one point, or under the crossbar and into the net by foot, hand or fist in certain circumstances for a goal, the latter being the equivalent of three points. “It’s like a football and rugby goal all in one,” he says.
The ramifications of COVID-19 have had an impact on many sporting clubs and the Gibraltar Gaels are no exception. “We play in the Andalucía Gaelic Football League and we weren’t able to finish last year or to start training again for this season,” Will says. The other two teams are Eire Og Seville and the Costa Gaels and because the season finished early it was agreed that whoever was at the top of the league would be dubbed the winners, and that was the team from Seville.
“In 2019 we won the league and went on to represent Andalucía and Gibraltar in the Iberia Cup which was held in Barcelona, so we went to play against teams from Galicia, Valencia, Barcelona, and Madrid along with others, and we got to the semi-finals,” Will says proudly. “The winner goes on to play in Ireland, so it was a massive achievement for us to get to the Iberian finals and we did really well.”
One of the reasons that people like to join the Gibraltar Gaels is for the social aspect, with several events taking place during the year. Will talks enthusiastically about a fund raising fancy dress Bingo night held last year at O’Reilly’s that raised over a couple of thousand pounds. “We have a wide range of memberships including for non-playing members or for those who just want to come to training to keep fit,” Will explains.
Gaelic football is full contact, fun, fast and will improve your fitness. The Gibraltar Gaels play their games at Europa Point and currently train at the DTC on Wednesday evenings. If you are inspired to play the sport and want to meet new people, make friends and get active, you can get in touch with them via social media: Twitter – @GibGaels or Facebook- Gibraltar Gaels