Islington Gaels gear up for big game

Image: Holloway Gaels

Image: Holloway Gaels

Holloway Gaels have a big St Patrick’s weekend lined up – they’re off to compete in the Amsterdam Gaelic sport Tournament. Ben Finch speaks to squad player Dee Donohoe about the team, the competition, and the effect of Ireland’s economic crisis on the sport.

Holloway Gaels are used to success. Formed in 1993 by Ann Dunning and Joan McEvoy, they  reached the London Junior Championship within two years.

By 1998 they had won the title and were representing London in the All-Ireland 7s. In 2008 they managed consecutive junior titles and moved to the senior league, as well as winning the All-Ireland.

And the Gaels have been boosted further in the last year thanks to Ireland’s economic woes.

Gaelic football is one of the national sports: a cross between football and rugby, but with less contact, players carry the ball but have to bounce or kick it every few steps. There are two ways to score: a point for getting the ball over the crossbar, and a score for kicking it in the goal.

Yet with emigration at its highest since the 1840s – 3,000 are leaving Ireland each month – sports teams have been left badly affected. What was traditionally the beating heart of small rural communities have in some cases been reduced to nothing as more people leave.

“It seems people are moving to find work and to study because fees have gone up in Ireland,” Donohoe says. “London is a much more attractive destination now because there are not many jobs at home.

“When you go back to Ireland, there’s no one there. The football and hurling clubs are suffering badly because everyone’s just leaving. When I was at home over Christmas every week there was a going away party, or someone else going back to Canada or Australia. It’s mad.”

As people come to England in search of work, the Gaels are on hand to pick up any potential footballing talent. Nine players joined from the Emerald Isle in 2012, making it the best year for recruitment Donohoe can remember.

Having a football club to join when you arrive somewhere new settles people, and Donohoe is in charge of meeting and settling new arrivals.

“When I came over, I came over on my own,” she says. “I didn’t really know anyone, it’s good just to hear the Irish voices. You hear that accent and you go: ‘I’m not homesick now.’”

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