Gaelic Athletic Association brings Ireland’s community-oriented sports to Notre Dame
Maggie Eastland | Monday, November 22, 2021
Welcoming both seasoned players and complete newcomers, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) brings a piece of Irish culture to campus through the sports of hurling and Irish football.
The club began with a small group of students from Ireland in 2018 and has since grown to around 30 consistent members who are mostly American.
Notre Dame’s GAA hosted its first tournament Saturday. The co-ed team left the pitch victorious, beating Purdue University, University of Pittsburgh and other rivals. Senior GAA president Maureen Kenny said she was proud of the team for competing at a high level and winning the tournament.
“It’s a pretty full contact sport. Everyone is coming out of this Saturday fully battered,” Kenny said, pointing to a bruise near her elbow. “It was a great day for us though. We won all our matches.”
Notre Dame’s Irish roots run deeper than the University’s mascot, and Kenny, who grew up in Ireland, said these sports are an integral part of Irish culture.
“This isn’t just any sport we’re playing. It’s a cultural gem,” she said. “This is something special, and it has a special place at ND, specifically as the Fighting Irish.”
Followed by hurling, Kenny said Irish football is Ireland’s most popular sport, one that retains local community flavor.
“The beauty of GAA is that it’s not played at the professional level,” Kenny said. “People really play for the love of the sport. You play for your county. You play for your town. It’s a real hometown feel.”
Kenny remembers playing in Croke Park National Stadium in her grade school championships and watching her grandfather represent her hometown playing in that very same stadium.
“That’s probably when I peaked in playing honestly, I’ve never gotten better since,” Kenny said about her primary school’s Irish football team championship appearance.
She said these aspects of Irish sports complement Notre Dame’s emphasis on community and offer a casual introduction to Irish culture.
Club members, including sophomore Grace Kane who had never played hurling or Irish football before joining GAA, testified to the community.
“GAA is an escape from all my other classes,” Kane said. “It’s a way for me to have fun and meet new people who want to do such a unique thing.”
The club also brings together a unique mix of Irish football and hurling fanatics and curious opportunists.
“A few of our players are from Ireland,” Kane said. “There’s also some people who have nothing to do with it, and just saw it at the club fair and thought ‘This looks cool? Where else can I do this?’ which seems like a common theme.”
Kenny said she strives to welcome members of all skill and familiarity levels with the sports.
“There are some who have been playing these sports since they were young,” Kenney said. “The hurl is just kind of like their third limb; they’re fabulous at it. There’s also a few less experienced on the team. “Everyone feels really encouraged. We obviously like to win and take the sport seriously, but we also like the community of it.”
In order to welcome new players at any point in the semester, Kenny makes an effort to review the basics of hurling and Irish football twice a week during GAA practices.
She calls hurling “the fastest sport on grass,” describing it as a combination of lacrosse, field hockey and rugby. Each player has a “hurler” they use to hit the “sliotar,” a hard ball shaped like a baseball.
Irish football is more like a hybrid of basketball, rugby and soccer, Kenny said. With every four steps, players must pass the volleyball-like ball to another team or solo bounce it back to themselves.
In both sports, players can score one point by hitting the sliotar or tossing the ball above and through the opposite team’s H-shaped goal, or they can score three points by scoring a goal beneath the cross bar.
“My big goal for the end of the year before I leave is to get jerseys, proper kit for our team,” Kenny said. “How we look as a team isn’t the most important thing, but I think it would really have us stand our part and set us up as a force to be reckoned with.”
Kane, GAA’s apparel commissioner, feels similarly and is working on getting those uniforms, or “kits” from Ireland.
“I was really intrigued when we played Purdue,” Kane said. “They came with these very intense uniforms. They were all decked out. We don’t even have jerseys or anything, but we’re the Irish school, we’re Notre Dame.”