About Gaelic Football

Overview

Gaelic football which is also known as Caid, and commonly referred to as “football” or “Gaelic”, is a form of football played mainly in Ireland. It is, together with hurling, one of the two most popular spectator sports in the Irish republic.

Gaelic football is played by teams of 15 on a rectangular grass pitch with H-shaped goals at each end. The primary object is to score by kicking or striking the ball with the hand and getting it through the goals. The team with the highest score at the end of the match wins. Players advance the ball up the field with a combination of carrying, soloing (dropping and then toe-kicking the ball upward into the hands), kicking, and hand-passing to their team-mates.

Statistics show the game drawing significantly more spectators than any other sport in the Ireland recently; 2005 ESRI figures indicate that it draws 34% of total attendances at sports events in Ireland, with the closest rival, hurling drawing 23%.

Football is one of four Gaelic games run by the Gaelic Athletic Association, the largest sporting organisation in Ireland with more than 800,000 members. It has strict rules on player amateurism and the pinnacle of the sport is the inter-county All-Ireland Football Final. The game is believed to have descended from ancient Irish football known as caid which dates back to medieval times, although the modern rules were not set down until 1886.

Gaelic football is also played in countries outside Ireland, often, although not solely, played by members of the Irish diaspora. It is increasing in popularity internationally. Teams from both London and New York compete in the annual All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, the highest level of the game.

International rules football, a hybrid of Gaelic football and Australian rules football, facilitates matches between Gaelic footballers and Australian rules footballers. International rules is most prominently used for international representative matches between Ireland and Australia.

The History of Gaelic Football

Gaelic football was first codified in 1887, although it has links to older varieties of football played in Ireland and known collectively as caid. Consequently, the name caid is used by some people to refer to present day Gaelic football.

The first record of any form of football being played in Ireland comes from 1308, when John McCrocan, a spectator at a football game at Newcastle, County Dublin was charged with accidentally stabbing a player named William Bernard.

The Statute of Galway of 1527 allowed the playing of “foot balle” and archery but banned ‘hokie’ – the hurling of a little ball with sticks or staves” as well as other sports.

By the 17th century, the situation had changed considerably. The games had grown in popularity and were widely played. This was due to the patronage of the gentry. Now instead of opposing the games it was the gentry and the ruling class who were serving as patrons of the games. Games were organised between landlords with each team comprising 20 or more tenants. Wagers were commonplace with purses of up to 100 guineas.

The earliest record of a recognised precursor to the modern game date from a match in County Meath in 1670, in which catching and kicking the ball was permitted.

However even “foot-ball” was banned by the severe Sunday Observance Act of 1695, which imposed a fine of one shilling (a substantial amount at the time) for those caught playing sports. It proved difficult, if not impossible, for the authorities to enforce the Act and the earliest recorded inter-county match in Ireland was one between Louth and Meath, at Slane, in 1712.

A six-a-side version was played in Dublin in the early 18th century, and 100 years later there were accounts of games played between County sides.

By the early 19th century, various football games, referred to collectively as caid, were popular in Kerry, especially the Dingle Peninsula. Father W. Ferris described two forms of caid: the “field game” in which the object was to put the ball through arch-like goals, formed from the boughs of two trees, and; the epic “cross-country game” which lasted the whole of a Sunday (after mass) and was won by taking the ball across a parish boundary. “Wrestling”, “holding” opposing players, and carrying the ball were all allowed.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Rugby football started to become popular in Ireland. Trinity College, Dublin was an early stronghold of Rugby, and the rules of the (English) Football Association were codified in 1863 and distributed widely. By this time, according to Gaelic football historian Jack Mahon, even in the Irish countryside, caid had begun to give way to a “rough-and-tumble game” which even allowed tripping. Association football started to take hold, especially in Ulster, in the 1880s.

Limerick was the stronghold of the native game around this time, and the Commercials Club, founded by employees of Cannock’s Drappery Store, was one of the first to impose a set of rules which was adapted by other clubs in the city. Of all the Irish pastimes the GAA set out to preserve and promote, it is fair to say that Gaelic football was in the worst shape at the time of the association’s foundation.

Irish forms of football were not formally arranged into an organised playing code by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) until 1887. The GAA sought to promote traditional Irish sports, such as hurling and to reject “foreign” (particularly English) imports. The first Gaelic football rules, showing the influence of hurling and a desire to differentiate from association football — for example in their lack of an offside rule — were drawn up by Maurice Davin and published in the United Ireland magazine on February 7, 1887. The rules of the aforementioned Commercials Club became the basis for these official (Gaelic Football) rules who, unsurprisingly, won the inaugural All-Ireland Senior Football Final (representing County Limerick)

On Bloody Sunday in 1920, during the Anglo-Irish War, a football match at Croke Park was attacked by British forces. 14 people were killed and 65 were injured. Among the dead was Tipperary footballer Michael Hogan, for whom the Hogan Stand at Croke Park (completed in 1924) was named.

The relationship between Gaelic football and Australian rules football and the question of whether they have shared origins is a matter of historical controversy. Games are held between an Irish representative team and an Australian team, under compromise rules known as International rules football.

The Rules of Gaelic Football

A Gaelic pitch is similar in some respects to a rugby pitch but larger. The grass pitch is rectangular, stretching 130–145 meters long and 80–90 meters wide. There are H-shaped goalposts at each end, formed by two posts, which are usually 7m high, set 6.5m apart, and connected 2.5m above the ground by a crossbar.

A net extending in back of the goal is attached to the crossbar and lower goal posts. The same pitch is used for hurling; the GAA, which organises both sports, decided this to facilitate dual usage. Lines are marked at distances of 13m, 20m and 45m from each end-line. Shorter pitches and smaller goals are used by youth teams.

The majority of adult football and all minor and under-21 matches last for 60 minutes, divided into two halves of 30 minutes, with the exception of senior inter-county games which last for 70 minutes (two halves of 35 minutes). Draws are decided by replays or by playing 20 minutes of extra time (two halves of 10 minutes). The under-12s have a half of 20 minutes or 25 minutes in some cases. Half-time lasts for about 15 minutes.

Teams consist of fifteen players (a goalkeeper, two corner backs, a full back, two wing backs,a centre back, two mid fielders, two wing forwards, a centre forward, two corner forwards and a full forward) plus up to fifteen substitutes, of which five may be used. Each player is numbered 1–15, starting with the goalkeeper, who must wear a jersey colour different from that of his or her team-mates.

If the ball goes over the crossbar, a point is scored and a white flag is raised by an umpire. A Point can be scored by either kicking the ball over the crossbar, or by fisting it over in which case the hand must be closed whilst striking the ball. If the ball goes below the crossbar, a goal, worth three points, is scored, and a green flag is raised by an umpire.

A goal can only be scored by kicking the ball into the net, you cannot fist pass the ball into the net. However, a player can strike the ball into the net with a closed fist if the ball was played to him by another player or came in contact with the post/crossbar/ground prior to connection. The goal is guarded by a goalkeeper.

Scores are recorded in the format Goal Total-Point Total. To determine the score-line goals must be converted to points and added to the other points. For example, in a match with a final score of Team A 0–21 Team B 4–8, Team A is the winner with 21 points, as Team B scored only 20 points (4 times 3, plus 8).