Gaelic Football: It’s Not Aussie Rules, but Close Enough


Ian Wallace, Columnist

The other article in this recent round of Global Review postings was about the tense political situation in Northern Ireland, but we’re on to something more lighthearted.  While most of my trip to Ireland was spent in the north, we spent two nights in Dublin and had the opportunity to see a Gaelic Football game between Dublin (Ath Cliath) and Tyrone (Tír Eoghain), a Northern Irish county.  Notice the Gaelic names in parentheses. The Gaelic Athletic Association, unlike most major sports leagues, is not a business but rather a cultural preservation tool, keeping the largely Anglicanized population of the island of Ireland in line with their ancient, Gaelic Roots.  The league is strictly amateur, with none of the players or management receiving compensation, only pride from the Irish people. However, that’s not to say that the atmosphere and athletic quality is any less than professional. The crowds chant as loud as a premier league game, and the players exhibit deft ball handling skills as well as pinpoint kicking accuracy.

Gaelic Athletic Association Logo.

What are the rules, you may ask?  The field of play is a bit larger than a soccer field with a length of 130-145 meters and a width of 80-90 meters.  At both ends stands a soccer net with metal uprights sticking out of the posts. Fifteen players per side can kick or carry a spherical, leather ball down the field, and kick the ball in the net for 3 points or through the uprights for one point.  When carrying the ball, players must bounce the ball every 5 steps and pass using their feet or by hitting the ball with their open hand like a volleyball. Players may tackle each other to gain possession, making Gaelic football a fast-paced passing game full of excitement in every minute.  

Croke Park Stadium, where we watched the game.

As I watched Tyrone upset Dublin, I couldn’t help but notice that the game was incredibly similar to Australian Rules Football (AFL), a game that I enjoy watching on YouTube in my spare time.  It turns out that the only major differences, the larger field size, ball shape, and different scoring methods, are few and far between enough to warrant a compromise game called International Rules Football, in which Australia plays Ireland every year.  Players abide by Aussie Rules on a Gaelic field and ball size, using Gaelic scoring methods. While I still enjoy Aussie Rules more, Gaelic football and the annual International Rules Football match are still fun ways to waste my time on YouTube, and worth your waste of time as well.