The Asian Gaelic Games get underway in Suwon, Sunday.
/ Courtesy of Tom Coyner
By Connor O¡¯Reilly
This weekend featured one of the largest Irish cultural events to be held in Korea, ever. The Asian Gaelic Games attracted over 50 Gaelic football and hurling teams from across Asia to converge on Suwon to take part in the fifteenth tournament of its kind, and the first ever to be held in South Korea. With teams from as far away as Bahrain and Indonesia, this year¡¯s tournament was the largest Gaelic games tournament to ever take place in Asia.
The Asian Gaelic Games is a sporting event that includes both Gaelic football and hurling, two of the national sports of Ireland. While Gaelic football may be considered as a cross between soccer and rugby, hurling could possibly be compared with hockey and lacrosse, especially in terms of the sports speed and intensity, but many would say the similarities stop there. Both sports are unique with heritage stretching back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Hurling is mentioned in the ancient Irish mythological saga the Táin Bó Cúailnge which dates from the first century A.D.
This weekend¡¯s tournament featured mostly Gaelic football and included clubs from 15 countries, many of whom had men¡¯s and women¡¯s teams. Altogether there were eleven teams from South Korea itself. The games started early on Saturday morning and despite a thunder storm in the late afternoon there was little to upset the passage of over 140 games playing right up until the final whistle at six o¡¯clock the following Sunday evening.
There were seven competitions being contested, including two ladies Gaelic football tournaments and one hurling championship. There was also a demonstration of camogie, which is similar to hurling but with some small differences, notably that it is played solely by women.
The most coveted prize of the tournament was the Derek Brady Cup, the prize for winning the men¡¯s A competition. This year¡¯s victors Hong Kong GAA overcame their long term rivals, the Singapore Gaelic Lions. In the women¡¯s A final Seoul Gaels were well beaten by Singapore Gaelic Lions. Despite this misfortune the Seoul Gaels B side were the deserved victors in their competition and made sure that the host did not leave empty handed.
From a Korean perspective this year¡¯s tournament was significant because the tournament featured four new teams from Korea, a men¡¯s and women¡¯s team from Busan, and two men¡¯s teams from Daegu. Laochra Busan, who only formed six months ago, managed to progress to the semi-final of the men¡¯s plate tournament only to be beaten by fellow newcomers to the Asian Gaelic Games, the Mongol Khans from Ulan Bator in Mongolia.
The organisation required for this event was immense. Over 700 players from 15 countries needed to be coordinated. The Seoul Gaels, Korea¡¯s oldest and largest GAA club, were responsible for this huge project. On top of coordinating the huge amount of players to arrive on time, the organizers needed to insure referees were present, goal posts were manufactured to the correct proportions, sufficient accommodation was available, and that there was enough transport available to and from all venues. Joe Trolan, chairman of Seoul Gaels, explained that it took around nine months to organize. It is a task that he feels his team are up to again in the future.
Trolan paid tribute to all the volunteers and gave specific praise to Helen Cooke, Kim Nam Soo, and the students from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, without whom the games would have not been a success. The Irish Ambassador to Korea also lauded the tournament as it marked ¡°a new plateau for the Irish community here, one on which we can develop and build.¡±
For more details on this tournament and the GAA in Asia and Korea, please visit www.asiancountyboard.com.