The Irish team sport bringing people together in Dubai

Kerry team player kicking for a point on the scoreboard.
Kerry team player kicking for a point on the scoreboard.   -   Copyright  Euronews
By Evan Bourke

With around 200,000 people relocating to Dubai each year, meeting people and making friends is a priority for most newcomers. For the Irish, this mission is made much easier with the spread of Gaelic football.

Also referred to as GAA after the founding sports authority, the Gaelic Athletic Association, Irish football is played on a grass pitch with a heavy round ball, rugby-style H-shaped goalposts and two teams of 15 players. That's more than in soccer, which features 11 players a side, and it's a case of "the more, the merrier". In Dubai, teams aren't restricted to Irish players.

"A lot of different cultures and countries come and get involved in the sport," says Dubai-based GAA player Cliodhna Lafferty. "We've had players from Scotland, South Africa, Germany, America… We actually have a guy who plays really competitively on our top team from the States."

Euronews
Each match has two halves of 30 minutes.Euronews

The melting pot mix of players is part of the appeal for Lafferty. "I know for me, when I first moved to Dubai, [Gaelic football] was my way of making friends," she says. "Really, there's a great sense of community, and oftentimes people will get involved purely for the social aspect of it, and then they'll get sucked into the game. I would say it's equal parts social and competition for a lot of people in the Middle East."

Whatever the draw, the sport's popularity is growing in the region and beyond.

"Gaelic football is happening in huge numbers crossed across the region," says GAA player Robbie Corcoran. "We actually did a player census last year, just to get a kind of gauge where it was in Ireland and globally and the spread of countries was just phenomenal."

In Dubai alone, the GAA division features more than 100 teams, and events are well attended. Corcoran commented on GAA's most recent Dubai games: "We had 10 men's teams and eight ladies' teams, so 18 in total from across both divisions – ladies' and men's. All clubs are keen to get new members in, of course, and everybody is always recruiting."

Seemingly, recruitment can be even more combative than the sport on the pitch with organisers forever keen to recruit more players.

Corcoran admits: "The recruitment can be quite competitive at times."

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Journalist • Sarah Hedley Hymers