Inevitably lost in the slew of results last weekend, Amsterdam made their exit from the Leinster club junior football championship calmly, but with their dignity intact.
They lost to the Dublin-based champions Tallaght, St Mark’s, 3-8 to 1-9 at Parnell Park; a result which reveals their true potential.
The usual hurdles of a GAA club based in mainland Europe have been magnified over the past 20 months, due to the pandemic which has made travel problematic and competition nearly impossible.
🚨 T-5 days at the Leinster Club championship 🚨
Come support the GAC on Saturday as we head to Dublin for the first round of the Leinster Junior Championship @StMarksGAA
– Amsterdam GAC (@AmsterdamGAC) 22 November 2021
In winning the European Championship, Amsterdam played less than a handful of games before beating Paris and Madrid to claim the title in the Dutch city of Maastricht last month.
Their trip to Dublin was funded by players digging deep into their pockets, while their accommodation was simply provided where they could rest.
And yet, by their lack of practice and their depletion of resources, they more than held up.
In doing so, they have provided an accurate health check of what is GAA’s most dynamic unit, with Gaelic Games Europe having now established an impressive 92 clubs in 24 countries; from Finland to the Mediterranean, from the Channel Islands to Moscow, it continues to evolve in ways that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago.
Cork man John Murphy kept the goal for Amsterdam last weekend, but earlier this year, in his role as president of Gaelic Games Europe, he helped organize one of the GAA.
He convinced a Galician TV station to broadcast live on RTE the two All-Ireland football semi-finals, followed by the Tyrone-Mayo final, with commentary of the matches in the local language.
It was one of those quirky pre-final stories that got oxygenated, but it also got to the heart of the matter as to what is driving GAA’s growth in Europe.
In the last full count in 2019 – for obvious reasons, completing such a census in the meantime has been problematic – 60% of members playing in Europe were non-Irish nationals.
“To have crossed that 50% threshold was a huge moment as it is proof of a sense of tribalism and passion that seems to trump any flag or passport by far,” said Murphy, a native of of Glenville, in East Cork.
“I think our games have a very tribal, almost primitive appeal, both in the physics and in the skill levels of the games.
“And the other thing, and it’s not to be underestimated, is that people really get into the after-game craziness and that social element attracts a lot of people who think sports should be fun for everyone. levels. “
This membership is particularly evident in Galicia, where the number of clubs is now in double digits, with the vast majority of players being locals.
This could explain why the local TVG station once aired a documentary on the GAA World Games, making sure they were receptive to the All-Ireland series streaming, but it’s a conversation Murphy had with another native GAA club that provided its bulb moment.
The Darmstadt GAA club in the South Rhine region of Germany is actually a hurling club – they play football but it’s really the second code – founded, run and played by locals.
The club owes its origins to a stroke of fate when 16-year-old Jakob Feldmann stranded in Carlow as part of a student placement program for a transitional year and remained in digs where the man from the house was originally from Kilkenny.
Back home, he has not only convinced his friends to take up hurling, but he is now supported by the local university as the club grows stronger.
“They are just wonderful,” exclaimed Murphy.
“Their enthusiasm for this is incredible; they are the same as any place in Kilkenny, Tipperary or Cork. They love it.
“I was chatting with them and telling them how do I get 10 other German hurling clubs to work?”
“And they were like, ‘Why can’t you put it on German TV? This sport sells itself, you just have to broadcast it and people will go for it ”.
“It really gave me the idea to bring our flagship games to a wider audience, and Galicia was the best opportunity where it could be done,” he added.
For all kinds of reasons too.
Like club Darmstadt, Gaelic football in Galicia took root following a visit by local academic Garcia Zapata to Croke Park where he saw the 2010 Leinster football semi-finals and when he returned to his hometown La Coruña. he founded a club.
Such is the history of Galicia – an autonomous region which identifies passionately with its language and music – it has always felt culturally close to Ireland, which means it was not as difficult to sell as one might have imagined at the start.
There is now a club in every town in a region of 2.8 million people and it has been estimated that of the 300 Gaelic soccer players there in 2019, less than ten were Irish.
“The big challenge when you do something like that is how do you get hurling or playing football at a TV station that knows absolutely nothing about these sports?”
“It’s very hard to put it mildly, but because this TV station had done a documentary on the GAA World Games in the Middle East before, they had this lingering relationship with the local clubs, so I asked if I could get them the All- would the Irish playoffs consider showing her and they were really positive.
“I told them they could also have the hurling but they had no interest,” he laughed.
“The ground, so to speak, in Europe, is that the Nordics and the Germans have a more marked preference for hurling, while in Iberia and France, football is the most popular,” he said. he explains.
The return on investment of the exhibition saw another club founded in Galicia. But the real dividend is that the game is now being developed in a way that not only suggests that current growth rates will be sustainable, but that they may in fact accelerate.
“The local reaction has been brilliant and in the meantime another club has started there.
“But what has happened as a result is that the local Galician schools have signed an agreement with the local regional education authority which will, over the next five years, see Gaelic football played in these schools.
“This is most important to me because we have to build a lasting model and a tradition and it means raising the children through our system, as such, in a way similar to what we have at home. “
And this is even replicated in big cities like Amsterdam, where inevitably the clubs tend to be primarily the heart of the local Irish community.
By providing a sense of home, this role can never be underestimated, but the flip side is that it is always vulnerable to the transient nature of its limbs.
But the pandemic has also provided a window of opportunity to address this issue. For the first time this year, they have started to organize introductory coaching sessions for children at their municipal training base.
“Our club was founded in 2003, but because there is such turnover it is very transient in nature and I would say that we are probably in our fourth generation of members as such which is a lot. considering the age of our club.
“But during the pandemic, when not much was happening on the ground, other things started to happen outside. When the restrictions were lifted, to allow the sport to return, we saw such an increase in the number of women that we were able to field a women’s team for the first time, rather than having to merge with others.
“We ran a youth initiative in the fall for six weeks and we have 20/30 kids participating in it, but the big bonus was that one or two of the guys who were involved with the club from the start came back. with their children this time.
“It was just very special to see this circle come full circle. When you see that happening and you see what’s going on with indigenous people taking on gambling, it really makes you feel like it’s only going to get stronger, ”he said.