It was almost like an Irish night for Gaelic Football, except for the lack of rain.
Wrapping up the final Men’s and Women’s games of the Calgary Chieftains Gaelic Athletic Association’s season, club chairperson Maria Ryan laughed about how the cooling Oct. 7 weather felt like home.
The association wrapped up their 45th year in Calgary, marking the milestone with a growing number of non-Irish Calgarians beginning to overtake the number of Irish on the pitch.
“Our game tonight is going to be predominantly non-Irish people, which is phenomenal for us,” Ryan said.
“To see 24 of the lads coming out to train, and three years ago when we couldn’t send a men’s team to a tournament, it’s fantastic. We’ve really come on and it’s really been a great year of growth for us.”
The Chieftains were able to send players to the inaugural Canadian Gaelic Athletic Association Canadian National Championship in September. It marked a milestone for the club and for the GAA sports in Canada.
As for the final games of the season, Ryan said there was a buzz among other club members in the lead up.
“It’s just a great day for the Irish in Calgary,” she said.
The club is now transitioning to their fall training schedule, which takes place indoors at the Bowness Community Association.
The Chieftains are running a 10-week multi-sport training program, which starts this week on Oct.13 and runs until Dec. 14. Cost is $10 per session. It runs on Thursdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m., or $50 for all 10.
For more details, see www.calgarychieftains.com.
One of the fastest growing sports worldwide
Matt Healy, chairperson for the Canadian Gaelic Athletic Association and former Gaelic Athletic Association of Ireland president John Horan were in Calgary for the matches.
“It’s great to see Gaelic is really becoming a big hit Canada wide, with 28 clubs now from Vancouver to Newfoundland,” said Healy.
“We’re quite happy with the progress but still, lots of work to be done to build it even further.”
Horan pointed to Women’s Gaelic Football as the sport that has seen the most growth worldwide.
“The game of ladies football is the one that’s probably taken off big time in terms of number increases. A lot of that is down to the fact that girls can adapt to it if they’re coming from an athletic or a basketball background to actually play the game.”
He said that GAA in general has been of great assistance to Irish living abroad, providing a sense of community connection.
“It’s proven a very valuable network and the Department of Foreign Affairs back in Ireland are very happy with the benefits the spread of GAA is to them and their work for looking after Irish citizens throughout the world,” Healy said.
Ryan said it was hard to put into words the kind of support that they’ve received from the Canadian GAA and GGA of Ireland.
“Calgary is such a small club, but and as cheesy as it sounds, we’ve got so much heart. We’re as big as any other club heart-wise,” she said.
“To have and to be able to host the former GAA president the current CGAA chairperson, and obviously our players and our kids and all this, it really means the world to be involved in something like this.”
Calgary Chieftains have connection to top levels of the sport
Horan himself was instrumental to helping the Calgary Chieftains acquire their specialized goals posts. They are a combination of American football and soccer goal posts. The financial contribution to the Calgary team was in excess of $30,000.
He said that Calgary was a special place for him, and was happy to help the club given his own personal history.
“I was actually out here in Calgary on a summer vacation back in 1982 and actually played with the Calgary chieftains,” Horan said.
“Your club in the GAA is a very important thing to you. As I’ve often said, it’s nearly like in addition to your DNA and you’ll always remember your club and will always say that’s where I came from, particularly if you leave Ireland.
“I was only ever involved two clubs, one was my own home club, Na Fianna in Glasnevin in Dublin, and obviously the Calgary Chieftains.”
He said that it was great to see that there are GAA goal posts visible from the Trans Canada highway.