If you are looking for a way to connect to Irish culture, look no further. The Albuquerque Gaelic Football Club strives to create a community celebrating the popular Irish sport, and it’s open to everyone.
Fergus Whitney, the president of the community club, said Gaelic football is like a mix of basketball, soccer and rugby — utilizing all parts of your body while embracing a sense of physicality with the opposition.
Whitney contrasted Gaelic football with American sports, saying Gaelic football is played at a much faster pace.
“I know a lot of American sports, like American football or baseball, are kind of stopping and starting,” Whitney said. “This game is pretty intense, I guess. Once you actually get to know the game, it’s pretty enjoyable. It’s definitely a team effort.”
Whitney stressed that the club is less about the athleticism of the sport and more about the community building.
Albuquerque Gaelic Football CLubs half-forward Alaric Babey, punts a Gaelic football through the uprights at USS Bullhead Memorial park. The club practices Irelands oldest organized field sport at Bullhead Park on Wednesday's at 6 p.m..
“It’s more social, more community-based,” he said. “It’s like having a good core group of people that may want us to connect with something that’s more community-based or social-based, rather than solely going out to be an athlete.”
Whitney said that the sport especially helps people connect with Irish culture, whether they are from Ireland or have just visited.
“This one guy, he spent some time studying in Ireland, so for him it’s a connection to staying in contact with Irish heritage due to his experience in the country,” Whitney said. “Even though there’s people who are not Irish, they may have the connection where they visited the country at some point or they’ll still want to hold on to that kind of connection that they made when they were there.”
Whitney said the club travels to festivals and events around the U.S. that celebrate Irish culture. The group has had members go to Seattle, San Diego, and Denver. They also regularly attend the Shamrock Festival on St. Patrick’s Day.
The club helps Whitney personally connect with his country, he said.
“I think it’s a great way for us Irish in Albuquerque...to connect, doing it through something that you play when you’re back home in your own country,” Whitney said. “It’s making that kind of social connection to people from your own country and also introducing the sport to people who’ve never seen it before.”
Gaelic football is actually played all over the world, Whitney said.
“Finland started a team, and there were only two Irish players,” Whitney said. “I guess we’re using the Irish people that are here as the core group to try and establish this, but we don’t really have the numbers of Irish people. So we need to try and branch out to basically anyone who would be willing to try and start a new sport.”
Whitney said the club is looking to find more people to join their practice. The main goal of the club is to bring the sport to new people, and give anyone a chance to try it.
“Anyone who values connections or even people who are interested or curious about new sports (should come) — if they’re willing to help us in any way, just to spread the word out and try to make it bigger,” Whitney said. “Students or kids could learn it too.”
A team usually needs about 15 people, and the club usually has about 15 to 20 show up to practice. They aim to have enough people to have two teams so that they can practice full games.
“Come out and give it a go,” Whitney said. “Like anything, you have to try it and if it’s a good fit, say yes.”
Whitney said the practices — held at Bullhead Park on Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m. — are quite relaxed. The club also holds social events and tries to have social games every month.
Anyone 16 and older is invited, and all skill levels are welcome.
The club will have a scrimmage for new players on an upcoming Saturday. Check their Facebook page, titled “Albuquerque Gaelic Football Club — GFC” for updates on the final date.
Ariel Lutnesky is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ArielLutnesky.