So you stumble upon a game being played in Zilker Park. The players are clutching what looks like a volleyball to their chests and crashing shoulders as if they were playing rugby. But every few steps the ball is dribbled like a basketball or kicked like a soccer ball. No, this is not some mashed-up American hybrid sport. This is Gaelic football.
Gaelic football has been played in Ireland for centuries and was codified in the late 1800s after the formation of the Gaelic Athletic Association. Irish children grow up playing the sport and the best players receive the honor of representing their parishes on county teams. The Celtic Cowboys Sports & Social Club created Austin’s first ladies Gaelic football team in September.
“It’s a good time to join,” said Pat Doab, team coach and President and Co-Founder of the Celtic Cowboys Sports & Social Club. “Everyone’s still learning the game. There are only two Irish ladies that have seen the game before, and at that they haven’t played in years so they’re still coming back in.”
The game involves skills like dribbling, kicking and soloing, which is dropping the ball to kick it back up to your hands. Players have to do something with the ball after every four steps they take, whether it’s bouncing the ball, soloing or passing it off to another player.
Each team has a goal with a cross bar. If the ball goes over the bar, a point is scored. If the ball is kicked under the crossbar and into the net, a three-point goal is scored. Scores are kept in a goal-point format. For example, if a team scored 3-5, that means they have 14 points total because three times three is nine and nine plus five is 14. Simple enough, right?
The team has become more than just another typical adult league. To the team’s Irish members, Gaelic football is a comforting reminder of home. Team member Orla O’Connor moved from Ireland to Austin in October and joined the team soon after.
“For someone who is Irish, what it means is that you have a piece of home when you go away,” O’Connor said. “Austin and Ireland are so far removed from one another, physically and culturally, so it helps you to not miss home so much.”
The Celtic Cowboys Sports & Social Club, founded in 2004, houses both the men and ladies Gaelic teams in addition to soccer, hurling and golf teams. The group’s Irish roots have built a greater sense of community beyond their sports teams.
“When Pat started this, it was exclusively people that had come over from Ireland and were trying to hang out and not feel so alone,” said Amy Swanholm, chair of the team’s leadership committee. “He’s been doing it for about 10 years now and there’s still a lot of Irish people involved, but there’s also people that just think they’re awesome. I mean, I’m Swedish, I’m not Irish at all. A lot of the girls on the team aren’t, but it’s just a fun group of people.”
The team’s bustling social life is simply a bonus to carrying on proud Irish traditions throughout the world.
"One thing that is still flourishing is the GAA and our national sports, so it’s fantastic to see it around the world because Ireland’s so small," O’Connor said