Gaelic Football, or: Back to the Future

14 Apr 2023

Jakob Jung loves football. But over the years, the Comparative European History student's relationship with the sport has become quite complicated. For Vox, he is going on the lookout to replace the football-shaped hole in his heart. This week, he talks about how to time travel with Gaelic Football.

Today I am going to time travel – at least sort of. But instead of a DeLorean, I will be using Gaelic football as my mode of transportation. Now, most of you have probably never heard of this ancient Irish sport. It would likely be the same for me had I not spent three years of my childhood in Ireland. Over there, Gaelic football is huge. The finale of the Irish competition is frequented by 80,000 spectators every year.

Nevertheless, I never actually participated myself. But luckily, the sport has spread from the Emerald Isle and a club exists even here in Nijmegen. The sport’s ball looks similar to a regular football, even though it’s a bit heavier. But that’s where the similarities end.

The first lesson I learned while playing Gaelic Football: it demands an unusually high degree of body coordination. The rules are quite particular. You are allowed to run with the ball in your hands for four steps, then you have to bounce it on the ground or on your foot. That’s actually quite hard because you have to keep both the ball and your balance while sprinting toward the goal.

‘A cheer from a teammate is worth a lot’

But the longer the training session went on, the more I started to enjoy it. I managed more and more to intercept others on the ball, interact with my teammates, and even score a point. Lesson number two: learning a new sport is rewarding. A cheer from a teammate is really worth a lot.

When the Irish diaspora spread, Gaelic sports functioned as a sign of community and an important reminder of home. Here in Nijmegen, it brings many different students and workers from all over Europe together. And I felt like it was easy to fit into this community. Bonus points: it was a nice reminder of my time in Ireland.

The wet grass and earth almost smelled like the swampy Wicklow mountains where my family often went on muddy weekend hikes. I remembered escaping the rain in a café to eat some scones and warm up with a cup of tea in Dublin’s city centre. And I had to think of how I played in the schoolyard together with all my friends, many of whom I haven’t spoken to in years. Even though Gaelic football is a new sport for me, it filled me with a feeling of nostalgia. Which leaves me with lesson number three: time traveling is sometimes easier than one might think.

Read Jakob Jung's blogs here

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