On a warm spring afternoon at Yongsan Army Base, the players of Seoul Gaels are almost finished with their first fitness test of the year. “Thirty seconds,” shouts the coach. “One last push.” Some players pick up the pace, knowing the end is near. Others slow down as their legs start to drag across the turf. Breathing is heavy. Grimacing, they keep going. “Stop!” he shouts. Immediately, multiple players collapse to the ground. Those still standing put their arms on their heads. They had just done 12 minutes of high-intensity running; some surpassed 3 kilometers, while others fell just short. But the long road for the season ahead has begun.
Next month, midway through their season, they will see how far they have come since that first fitness test when they host the North Asian Gaelic Games in Namyangju.
Up to 200 players from Korea, China and Japan will gather for the July 5 event, which focuses on Gaelic football, a traditional Irish sport. In Asia, it is a nine-a-side game played with a round ball and seven minutes for each half. When played in its full form in Ireland, there are 15 players to a team. Every time a team kicks or hand-passes the ball between the uprights, they get one point. For hitting the back of the net, they get a goal worth three points.
As Seoul Gaels enter the final few weeks before the competition, coach Jamie Lynch says both the men and women have prepared well and are already a step ahead of where they were last year. He says a lot of players have done the hard work of training in the gym or at the track on their own, which means the team has had more time in practice to run plays.
“You can train as hard as you want, but the real learning and the real progress can be seen in matches against other teams,” he says. “Thankfully, we have two rounds of the KGGs (Korean Gaelic Games) and the China Games under our belt, so that has given us a fair idea of where we are at and what we need to focus on more.”
Seoul Gaels’ men’s and ladies’ teams compete at all levels, catering to everyone from serious athletes to social players who like to have a few drinks with teammates after training. The club has also started a kids’ team as the game becomes more and more popular in this part of the world. They are preparing to put on a kids’ exhibition game at the North Asian Gaelic Games, which will be the first international event the club has hosted since the Asian Gaelic Games in Suwon in 2011.
“Our main difficulty was to find a proper playing facility that will be capable of and willing to host such an event,” says chairman Declan Griffin. “Since our club was formed, the one continuous challenge has been finding space to train and play on.”
When they secured the Namyangju Sports Center for the event, Griffin described it as a “massive relief.”
After the games on July 5, a post-games banquet will be held at the Renaissance Hotel in Gangnam, with many other events for participants and observers to look forward to throughout the weekend.
“We are planning a really fun and exciting three days — showcasing all facets of Irish culture, from our sports to our music and everything else in between,” says Griffin. “If we can get a good spread of participants of all levels and ages from all over Korea, Japan, China and even beyond playing Gaelic football here, we will have achieved our primary aim (because) we want to focus on participation.”
Seoul Gaels Kids
Seoul Gaels Kids train most Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Jamwon Han River Park in Apgujeong or at Dwight College. They occasionally participate in touch rugby competitions and won the beginners’ division in the competition in April. This year they hope to travel to Ireland to play a half-time exhibition game in front of 82,000 people at Croke Park stadium and meet the Irish prime minister a second time. They are currently recruiting kids of all ages who would like to play on Saturdays or would be interested in the trip to Ireland.
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