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Gaelic football

Gaelic football is a competitive sport played mainly in Ireland.



Though it has existed for centuries, it was formally arranged into an organised playing code by the Gaelic Athletic Association in the late nineteenth century. Male and female leagues of the game exist.


Gaelic football's rules are most similar to Australian Rules Football, and it is widely believed that Irish games were a significant influence on the Australian game. Since the late 20th century, Gaelic and Australian rules teams have played each other in International Rules matches, in which compromise rules based on both games are used.

Modern Gaelic football is played with a round leather ball, similar to - but heavier than - that used in soccer.

The game is played on a ground similar to a rugby pitch. The goals, located at each end have a scoring system involving posts that are shaped like a letter 'H'. If the ball is kicked into the lower section (which is guarded by a goalkeeper), a goal is scored. If the ball goes over the bar, one point is scored. One goal is valued at three points. Scores are recorded in the format {goal total} - {point total}. For example, if a team scored 1 goal and 14 points, it is written as 1-14 which would produce a total of 17 points. The winning team is the one which has the highest total score, when the points total is calculated.

For example, in a conjectural match between Meath and Dublin (two real-life rivals), the final scores would be written

Meath 2-14 Dublin 1-12

The result would be spoken as "Meath two fourteen, Dublin one twelve". The winning team is usually quoted first.

Leagues and Team structure

All Gaelic sports are amateur, that is, played by unpaid players who have other careers. The basic unit of each game is organised at parish level, with various local teams playing to win the County Championship.

On a national level, the team is organised on the old Irish county system [1], producing 34 teams representing the original 32 counties that used to cover the island of Ireland, plus teams representing the Irish diaspora in London and New York. Though Ireland was partitioned into two states in 1920, Gaelic sports (like most cultural organisations and all religions) continue to be organised on an all-island basis. A team of 15 players plus substitutes is formed from the best players playing at parish level. Teams play against each other in a knockout tournament known as the All Ireland. These knockout games are organised on the four Irish provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht. In the past, the best team from each would play one of the others, at a stage known as the All-Ireland semi-finals, with the winning team from each game playing each other in the All-Ireland Final. A recent re-organisation now provides a 'back door' method of qualifying, with knocked out teams getting another chance to win back into the competition.

County teams also compete in the National Football League, held every spring. In this, the 32 teams are split into 4 divisions, 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B. The top two teams in 2A and 2B go into the Division 2 semi-finals and are promoted to Division 1 for next season. The top two teams in 1A and 1B go into the Division 1 semi-finals to compete for the League title. The League is nowhere near as prestigious as the All-Ireland, but in recent years attendances have grown and interest, from the public and from players, have grown. Live matches are shown on the Irish-language TV station TG4.

The All Ireland Final

The final game of the county series is the All Ireland Finals which usually take place in September in Croke Park. Over a series of weeks, All Ireland Finals in men's football, women's football, hurling and camogie take place, each on a Sunday. Crowds of up to eighty thousand turn up. Guests who attend include the President of Ireland, the Taoiseach (prime minister) and leading dignitaries. Two level of the game are played at each All Ireland, the senior team and the minor team (consisting of younger players, usually under the age of 18, who have played their own Minor All Ireland competition.)

The winning senior male football team wins the Sam Maguire cup, while the senior male hurling team wins the Liam McCarthy cup. The most successful county in the history of Gaelic football is Kerry, with over 30 All Ireland wins, followed by Dublin , with over 20 wins.

Some of the more famous names in recent years can be seen at the List of footballers (Gaelic football)

See also: football

The sport is organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association which was founded in 1884. It also organises other Gaelic sports such as Hurling and Camogie. Its headquarters is at Croke Park, which is the location of the main stadium of all Gaelic games organised by the GAA. After a major rebuilding programme, the Croke Park stadium is generally regarded as one of Europe's finest stadia.

Recent Winners of GAA All-Ireland Football Championships

  • 1991: Down
  • 1992: Donegal
  • 1993: Derry
  • 1994: Down
  • 1995: Dublin
  • 1996: Meath
  • 1997: Kerry
  • 1998: Galway
  • 1999: Meath
  • 2000: Kerry
  • 2001: Galway
  • 2002: Armagh
  • 2003: Tyrone
  • 2004: Kerry


[1] In the nineteenth century, local government units called counties were created. The counties as originally created remain the basic unit of the GAA even though in reality the administrative units have been rearranged slightly in the twentieth century. Northern Ireland's original six counties are now divided into 26 council areas, while in the Republic of Ireland some of the 26 counties have since been subdivided for administrative purposes, leading to a modern local governmental unit total of 33 (adding City Councils for Waterford, Galway, Cork, Dublin; splitting Dublin County into South, East and Fingal; splitting Tipperary into North and South). The GAA sticks to the 32 counties (ie, 26 + 6), and today includes representative teams from London and New York.

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Last updated: 02-10-2005 09:03:20
Last updated: 02-28-2005 11:24:10