By Micheal McKenna
GAELIC FOOTBALL in Manchester is now more popular than ever before according to Croke Park officials in Dublin.
The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) last week commended the work of small clubs across Britain, with a special mention for Manchester, which harbours no fewer than five clubs.
Gaelic is one of the world’s more cultural and vibrant sports and has always had a strong presence in Britain, with Manchester now a haven for Irish ex-pats.
Tadhg Meehan, British Secretary for the GAA, said: “It’s just amazing to think that our own sport from our tiny little country has really taken off over here.
Mr Meehan is particularly pleased with the growth of the sport in Manchester.
He said: “It is incredible to see how Gaelic has rocketed in Manchester, it’s fantastic.
“There have been a number of clubs in Manchester that have recently celebrated 25th anniversaries and that is testament not only to the GAA but to these small clubs and the people involved in running them.
“Without their support this wouldn’t be possible.”
Not only does Gaelic contribute to Irish community cohesion and identity across these isles but it brings with it a curiosity among the British public.
The demand for pubs across the country to show to show this sport is growing beyond anything Michael Cusack – a founding member of the organisation in 1884 – could ever have anticipated.
Chris Batty, a pub landlord in Manchester, said: “As a landlord in a sports pub I do try to cater for the needs of everyone so I have two separate sky boxes”
“It seems that Gaelic is never off my screens because a large percentage of the people that drink here are Irish.
However he does admit it is more than just the Irish who take a keen interest.
He said: “Even when it does go on, you get a lot of people who aren’t Irish would sit down and watch it. Gaelic has some sort of pull and I can understand why.”
More and more people have started to watch the game on a regular basis and this has led to an influx of people in Manchester taking up the game.
Sean Hegarty, manager of St Peter’s GAA club in Fallowfield, said: “I first managed this club back in 2005 and at that time it was a struggle to get a team together at times.
“Nowadays, we can afford to have a reserve team and have two matches a week which is brilliant.”
Mr Hegarty believes that having a large group to work with makes it more enjoyable and worthwhile.
“I can remember always being on the phone to people on match days trying to get people out and it was a bloody nightmare.
“I don’t do a lot of phoning these days because we have no problem getting players now.”
Gaelic is not just a sport for adults and men, it is open to women, with one ladies team already in Manchester.
The sport also sees the participation of children as young as eight, with much of the emphasis on development of youth, both on and off the field.
Ryan Harris, 18, has just decided to take up the sport and he believes that more people like him should join the club so to speak.
He said: “It’s a brilliant game that obviously doesn’t get the exposure it should but I’ll definitely be trying to get my friends involved.”
For more information visit www.britain.gaa.ie or www.gaa.ie