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Lead Stories

Games Gaels Play

Gaelic Athletic Assoc. in Patterson Park showcases Old World sports

by David Morley

The Super Bowl marks the end of football for the next nine months. Fans can relax and casually plan next year’s pool.More adventurous spirits however might wish to rise from their couches and join Tadgh and Lucy Prendeville in Patterson Park as they introduce a new kind of football this spring: Gaelic Football. They’re passionate about this ancient Irish sport, and hope to add more players to their roster this upcoming season.

So far, over 60 people have signed up with the Baltimore Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), about a third of which come every week to run drills in the Virginia S. Baker Recreation Center along Baltimore Street. Tadgh (pronounced like "Tiger" without the "Er" sound) and Lucy teach the fundamentals of the sport to newcomers and hone the skills of those more familiar with Gaelic games. The 20 or so novices work hard, panting and sweating in the gym for two hours every Wednesday evening. Tadgh gives them a two minute break around 8:30, then has them running more drills: trying to kick a ball from the ground to their hands and passing to another player, dribbling the ball, kicking, and playing passing exercises in groups of four.

Many people outside America call soccer football, but in Gaelic Football, players not only kick the ball, but can pick it up and run with it, like a football. Every four steps, they dribble the ball, like a basketball. And to pass to another player, they either kick the ball down the field or hit it, like a volleyball.

Although Gaelic football looks like a strange mix of different sports, Tadgh maintains the sport predates them all. "This game is about 500 years old," he says.

There’s no tackling per se, like in football, but there’s some pushing and shoving, and a lot of running the ball up and down the field.

The goal of the game, obviously, is to score more points than the opponent, and there’s two ways to score: the goal looks like a soccer goal with football goalposts on top of it. Landing a ball in the netting gives three points, and kicking it or volleying it between the goalposts lands one point.

Gaelic football has a tender side too: Tadgh and Lucy met at the Washington D.C. Gaels football league. Both living in Baltimore, they began carpooling to practice together. The rest is history; they were married in 2002 and grew weary of the commute to the nation’s capitol. "Then we thought, let’s start a Gaelic Athletic Association in Baltimore," recalls Lucy.

The GAA began meeting at Patterson Park with a few natives of Ireland and Scotland, but their flyering has quickly brought many Baltimoreans who were curious about Gaelic sports.

To pay for equipment, the GAA hosts fundraisers at the many Irish pubs around Baltimore, often asking fellow player Isaac Shay to have his "celtic punk" band, Whiskey at the Wake, perform.

In addition to Gaelic football, the GAA has also introduced two other sports to Baltimore: hurling and camogie. Hurling is like a mix between field hockey and lacrosse, and has the same scoring rules as Gaelic football. Camogie is women’s hurling, and is celebrating its 100th year anniversary this year.

As serious as Tadgh and Lucy are about Gaelic games, they also want to have fun with the sport and take the opportunity to make new friendships. "We’re not sticklers for rules," Tadgh says. "A lot of sports now are so competitive, we hope to fill a void where people can come out and play a game and still have fun with it."