BUSAN, South Korea – The traditional Irish sport of Gaelic football now permeates the expat scene in a myriad of international settings, from the "Mongol Khans" in Ulan Bator, Mongolia to "Cumann Warsawa" in Poland. Gaelic footballers are not just mere players on a field running frantically after a ball; they are connected to a worldwide sporting and cultural phenomenon.
Every year, hoards of people leave Ireland to work, study or just to gallivant around, seeking new shenanigans. With their suitcases they bring good looks, charm and also, in many cases, an intrinsic, die-hard, viking-like enthusiasm for Gaelic football.
For some of them, this enthusiasm may not have even become apparent yet as they emigrate. Their love of the game may indeed have been forgotten about, like dusty old football cleats in a cupboard, only to be reawakened on encountering Gaelic Athletic Association clubs such as Laochra Busan, Daegu Na Fianna and the Seoul Gaels.
Laochra Busan is particularly proud of the new players that have shown progress in the past year since the club's inception in June 2011. American Alice Oliver had never even heard of Gaelic football before coming to Korea, but is amazed to find herself playing the sport: “I definitely didn't expect to learn a traditional Irish sport while living in South Korea,” she says. “Gaelic football is very unique, but the combination of the different skills is what makes it so fantastic!”
Here at Laochra Busan we welcome new players for both the men’s and ladies’ teams all the time. New players, despite their lack of knowledge about the rules and skills of the game, bring an abundance of skills and talents from other sporting backgrounds to the field. New inexperienced players often surprise themselves with the progress they make in Gaelic football while injecting fresh energy and dynamism into the team. This season, Laochra Busan is delighted to have new players from Korea, Ireland, America, Canada, England and Wales.
On April 7, the newest recruits for both the men’s and ladies’ teams had a chance to test out their newly acquired skills in a friendly challenge match against Daegu Na Fianna. The ladies’ team trainer and manager Jackie Moran was delighted with the display from the ladies’ team. Moran sees plenty of potential in the team, and—with some consistent training, more polished skills, and more experience playing as a team—feels that they can make great strides this season and certainly make their mark on the GAA scene in Korea. The men's team, trained by Peter Bonner, also made the club proud, displaying plenty of skill and athleticism. Laochra Busan is still a young club but things are certainly looking favorable. Englishman Pete Swann was elated to experience his first real Gaelic football match: “The biggest highlight so far since I joined the Gaelic football club was definitely the friendly match against Daegu. It was loads of fun and actually winning a competitive game of sport is not a feeling I’m used to! Having 60 people turn up for a game of GF in Korea was insane, and I now can’t wait for the league to start.”
Too often people quit a sport as they get older because they feel they are not good enough at it. This is a very unhealthy attitude to have, but starting a new sport can take the pressure off. Sports should be about enjoyment and provide an avenue to escape the stress of work. Peter Bonner, the men's team trainer and manager, has some advice for prospective players: “The main thing for a beginner is to focus on just having fun. Be enthusiastic and throw yourself into it. The basic skills are relatively easy, so just give it a blast!”
Many clues do seems to point to the conclusion that perhaps that Gaelic football is more fun outside of Ireland. The pressure is slightly less, the time commitment for training is not as hectic and the rivalry between teams isn’t as intense as in Ireland; what is ever-present, though, is a huge passion for the game, a friendly competitiveness, the immense joy of winning and the disappointment when a team doesn't play as well as they could.
This passion and competitiveness will no doubt be evident when Laochra Busan hosts the two other Gaelic football clubs—Daegu Na Fianna and Seoul Gaels—for the first round of the Korean Gaelic League on April 28, before hosting a flip cup tournament at the Wolfhound in Haeundae. Come out and join us at the Wolfhound and support your local GAA club or if you want to simply have an absolutely mighty night's craic with a whole wreck o' amazing Gaelic footballers!
People interested in following the clubs progress or attending our events can add the club as a friend on Facebook at facebook.com/LaochraBusan. Those who are eager to try it out for real and join us on the field should join the group "Laochra Busan Members" to receive updates about training and other club-related matters: www.facebook.com/groups/131133600346674