|European Ladies Football Winners - The Gathering - Athlone - October 2013|
I might have missed one of the best GAA seasons for Limerick in my lifetime. I had to watch the hurlers win a Munster final from an Irish pub in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, I watched Clare beat them in an All-Ireland Semi from an Irish pub in Berlin, I had to wait for text updates from my friend after each game on how our county camogie team were getting on all year and wait on texts from my mother on how the girls got on in Headquarters in September as I was busy running around Disneyland, Paris.
I had a valid reason for missing such an immense season back home. I was in Eindhoven on an 8 month work placement with Philips Healthcare from June 2013 to January 2014. Before jetting off to the continent I decided I should look into playing Ladies Football and Camogie while abroad. After some hard worked google searches and some emails to my contacts in both associations I managed to track down a team based in Amsterdam, Holland Ladies. I contacted them and told them I was interested in playing camogie and football for the summer. To say I was welcomed with open arms is somewhat of an understatement. Student transfers were organised and I was informed that during my first weekend in Eindhoven there would be a camogie tournament in Luxembourg. So I landed in Eindhoven at 5pm on the Friday and by 7pm I was in a car with 4 lads who would be playing hurling for Den Haag at the weekend. I got one hell of an introduction to European GAA in my first weekend.
European GAA is split into 6 different regions; Benelux (the Netherlands, Belgium & Luxembourg), North-West (France), Iberia (Spain), Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland & Estonia), Italy/Swiss (Italy & Switzerland) and Central/East (Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary & Slovakia) with between one and 26 clubs in each country. The regional tournaments run from March to June with 3 tournaments in both hurling and football and points being earned depending on positioning in the tournament. From July to October the Pan European competitions run, these are run in the same format as the regional competitions. Winning the European Championships is the war, but winning each battle along the way is as important, so each tournament is hotly contested with tensions sometimes running high.
Holland Ladies play in the Benelux region. Since the number of women’s teams around Europe isn’t as high as the men’s competitions, the regions the women’s teams play in aren’t as rigid. During the year in both the camogie and football regional tournaments the Holland Ladies came up against Paris Gaels, Luxembourg, Zurich and Belgium. The main motivation for players going to these tournaments is obviously winning, but another almost as important motivation among all players is participation. Once your own club isn’t sending a team to a tournament you are free to play with any other team on the day. During my time in the Netherlands I donned the Holland Ladies (camogie & ladies football), Luxembourg (camogie), Den Haag (hurling) and Eindhoven (men’s football) jerseys. Even if the team has the numbers on the day, teams sometimes “donate” players to fellow teams who are struggling for numbers. Games are supposed to be 25 minutes long and 11 a side, but this can be reduced to 9 or 7, depending on the numbers teams have. The level of comradery between teams is the most noticeable aspect of European GAA. When you play the same girls in up to 6 tournaments a year you get to know them on and off the pitch. The rivalry is evident on the pitch, but the friendship is equally noticeable once the final whistle goes.
This year I travelled to tournaments for ladies football in Luxembourg (regional tournament), Maastricht in the Netherlands (European Tournament), Paris (Europeans), Dublin (All Ireland 7s representing Europe) and Athlone (Europeans), for camogie I travelled to Luxembourg (Europeans), Zurich (Europeans playing for Luxembourg and playing hurling with Den Haag) and Brussels (Europeans) and I jetted to Rovigo in Italy with the Eindhoven men’s football team to participate in a tournament in the Swiss/Italy region. Each tournament is run at a weekend. Teams usually travel on the Friday night (depending on the distance) as they have to be up early on the Saturday morning to make the first game which is usually around 9am or 10am. Tournaments are intense, with up to 6 or 7 games a day and only half an hour break between some they are very demanding days. After the tournament is over the fun really begins! There is dinner organised at a local restaurant and this is where the socialising and presentations happen. For each tournament there is also a Player of the Tournament award which is judged by the referees on the day. After the presentations and dinner the players are let loose amongst the streets of whatever unsuspecting town they are in and as they say, it’s all downhill from there!! On the Sunday a lot of sore heads crawl back to their respective corners of the continent for another month, when the whole cycle starts again.
|Niamh Richardson - Author|
GAA on the continent allows us Irish to meet others and to play the sport we love, and for others to pick up the sport and to quickly fall in love with it as well.
It is a new GAA, its European GAA and it's going all the way!