By Ilka Denker
“(Sport) has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to the youth in a language they understand.”
These words, spoken by Nelson Mandela, sum up in a nutshell the reason for establishing NUI Galway’s newest club: The International Gaelic Football Club. Set up in September 2019, the International Gaelic Football Club primarily emerged by the efforts of Erasmus Administrator Nigel Collins.
Nigel had attended a conference in Leuven that thematised the difficulties international students across Europe experience to integrate into a new college. Mostly, groups from different nationalities would stay with people from their respective countries. Nigel was trying to come up with an activity to help international students to integrate and create social networks amongst different nationalities. When Nigel received an invitation from the University of Limerick to an international Gaelic Football tournament for various tertiary institutions, he thought it to be a great initiative. By forming an international NUI Galway team, Nigel says: “The idea was that we could give the international students something that is fun and uniquely Irish. There is a cultural and social element to it.”
With David Henry on board as a coach, assisted by Nigel and occasionally Conor Ó Beoláin, the International Gaelic football team set off on a high note from day one. David and Nigel taught the students about Gaelic football from a grassroot level, including not only the technicalities of the sport, but also the foundation of the GAA and its workings. Numbers kept on rising with every training to the point that NUI Galway could compete with three international Gaelic Football teams at the UL competition last October.
Although the international Gaelic Football team cannot boast any trophies so far, the success of the initiative created a series of ripples. Student Union’s Club Captain Padraic Toomey says: “While we didn’t win 1st place, we did accomplish something better. We had made a group of students who did not know each other become a group of friends.”
Based on the immensely positive feedback, Nigel is planning another International Gaelic Football tournament, this time around to be held on home grounds; the NUI Galway Dangan Sportsgrounds. “We could not just bring a wall down on this. It should be there for many other students to enjoy and experience”, voices Nigel. Padraic Toomey is also involved in planning the blitz-like event, which is to take place on March 14th between 11am and 2pm and is partly funded by the ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Project Fund’. The teams will be fed after the competition and given the opportunity to mingle with students from other colleges.
The International Gaelic Football Club is all about that unity Nelson Mandela is talking about. It is about reaching out across nations. The club does not just start and end at the Dangan Sportsgrounds, it is something the international students take home. Padraic Toomey adds that “when (the international students) inevitably go back home, they will remember this, as it is such a unique experience”. Two of the players from last year’s squad have gone on to play Gaelic Football for their universities, as it turns out that there are over 400 GAA clubs across the globe.
Trainings are well under way every Friday between 5 and 6.30 pm and are open for all international students to join. The team meets up in Sult after training, a well-liked feature for all players, as Saurabh Hebbalkar says: “I joined to make a lot of new friends, and especially for the Friday beer.”
The NUI Galway International Football Club offers a once in a lifetime experience for all international students and is enjoyed by players and coaches alike, as Nigel states, “it is hard for the positivity not to sink into you. The positivity and enjoyment factor come across to everybody”.