|A group of Korean children play an exhibition game of Gaelic football during halftime at the Connaught final at MacHale Park in Ireland as part of a program organized by Seoul Gaels to promote the sport. (Seoul Gaels)|
The sport, originating from Ireland, can be described as an interesting cross between rugby, basketball and soccer. It incorporates the dribbling of basketball, goals of soccer and tackling of rugby.
It was initially introduced by Irish people who came to Korea to watch the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Eventually deciding to stay back in Korea, they started the first Gaelic football team in Korea, the Seoul Gaels.
“It is our national sport in Ireland. Its origins go back hundreds of years, if not thousands,” said Conor Mervin, the current development officer of the Seoul Gaels. “Irish people travel a lot and wherever we go we like to play Gaelic football. It’s about who we are and where we’re from. The sport is very important for our national identity and culture.”
However, the sport was initially only played by adults. Mervin decided to change that and introduced the Irish sport to children by starting a kids team that met Saturday mornings.
Among those kids who attended the Saturday morning program was Lee. Hearing about the program from a friend’s mom, he decided to check out what it was about.
“My friend told me that a group of students was going to meetup and try a new sport. At the program, they introduced us to Gaelic football. After learning about the sport, I thought it was really fun because you got to use your feet and hands. It was like a mixture of soccer and basketball,” he said.
Since starting the sport, Lee eventually went on to be one of 17 kids to take a trip to Ireland. There, he and the other students played Gaelic football at halftime of the Connaught final at MacHale Park in front of 42,000 people, even going on to meet the prime minister of Ireland and getting interviewed on Irish television.
It was the first time in Gaelic football’s professional history that non-Irish kids played an exhibition game there.
Following the successful trip to Ireland, this year, Mervin applied for grants from the government and the GAA, the main Gaelic football organization in Ireland. He was successful and received funding to develop kids programs in elementary and middle schools.
Currently, Mervin teaches Gaelic football in PE and after school classes at Asian Pacific International School, Dulwich College, Seoul Foreign School and Korea International School. He is currently in talks with the Dwight school and hopes to introduce the sport to public schools sometime around August or September.
Outside the school programs, Mervin plans to participate in the North Asian Games in Seoul and the Asian Gaelic games in Shanghai with the kid’s Gaelic football team. The winner of last year’s MVP award, Lee is now the captain of the kid’s team.
“Gaelic football is really a fun sport, but Korean students aren’t really aware of it. I hope it will become better known in the future and many Korean students will be able to play the sport,” said Lee.
For more information on joining the Gaelic Football club, please contact Conor Mervin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Moses Kim, Intern reporter (email@example.com)