When the Seoul Gaels got started, it was just two men talking in a bar in Itaewon. Fast forward 11 years, the club is now entering its second decade as a formidable group of 65, having been crowned champions of Asia three times, and is now renowned as a top competitor across the continent, in both the women’s and men’s competitions.
The idea for the club came in September 2002, just ahead of the Asian Gaelic Games, the pinnacle of Gaelic games in Asia. There were just six members at the club’s first practice that July. But word got around, membership grew and after a little more than two months of practice, the Gaels came home with the tournament trophy, having beaten two-time champions Japan and regular finalists Singapore – this would be the first of their three-year reign over the event. As proof of the Seoul Gaels high-standing across the continent, in 2011 the Gaels were given the honor of hosting the AGGs, which were held in Suwon. This tournament proved to be a huge success, both on and off the pitch.
For the uninitiated, Gaelic football is a field sport full of speed, agility, skill and passion played by two teams of 15. It is a game quite similar to Australian rules – think of it as a combination of association football and rugby.
Last year, there were 65 registered members in our club, and a fair percentage of those members were non-Irish. As our club chairman, Thomas Gaughan says “When you join the Seoul Gaels you become a part of an expat family, not just Irish but North Americans to New Zealanders and everyone in-between.”
Our international players have brought a lot to the club in the past. Players who have a history of playing sports, such as soccer, rugby, basketball, and even volleyball tend to pick-up Gaelic football very quickly. It’s true to say, our non-Irish players are often some of our best.
Like the GAA, the Seoul Gaels is more than just a sports club. The friendships begin on the training field and are further strengthened over a drink or two at many of the club’s social events. The club engages in many sporting days, ranging from friendly games, to big tournaments. The Gaels organize lots of social events, such as, St. Patrick’s Day outings, hiking day-trips, club barbeques, fund-raisers, end-of-year banquets and lots of social nights out in between. These events are organized by the club’s social committee to ensure that members, new and old always feel welcome.
This year Seoul Gaels is advancing further, as it has formed an underage team. This initiative has been led by our Development Officer, Conor Melvin. The juvenile team is made up entirely of Korean native children. They seem to be really enjoying the sport, and are improving their football skills at every training session. The establishment of a young Seoul Gaels team is a great achievement for the club, an achievement all members are very proud of, as the Gaels try to integrate more and more with the local community. This summer, the kids’ team travelled to Ireland, where they visited the western part of the country – there, they saw the beautiful sights the west has to offer, they studied English, played Gaelic football, learned how to play Irish instruments, and experienced Irish culture first-hand through a home stay experience.
The senior Gaels’ squad is doing very well this year. In June, the club competed in the All-China Games in Beijing, where the men were crowned champions of the B competition. Seoul Gaels also competed in the Korean Gaelic League, where the men’s team retained their winning title for the third year in a row. The men won all three rounds of the tournament, which had been held in Busan, Ulsan, and Seoul respectively. Our ladies were gracious runners-up in the event, and a fantastic display of football was shown by all teams.
The season culminates with the Asian Gaelic Games in Kuala Lumpur in October. Seoul Gaels are strong competitors at this event, and many of their members, both men and women, have been named All Stars or received MVP awards over the years. Seoul Gaels are very excited about participating in the AGGs this year. The 2012 games proved a great triumph for the club, with the men winning the Plate, and the ladies reaching the final of the A competition.
But beyond the tournaments and the trophies are the lasting friendships and sense of community that Seoul Gaels members say they get from being part of the team.
As Thomas Gaughan, the current club chairman, said, “The Seoul Gaels gives you a family when you’re so far away from home.”
Training takes place every Saturday, in various locations around Seoul. Our season runs through to October. New members are welcome to join at any time throughout the season, and the club guarantees that they will have fun, improve their fitness and make lifelong friends.
For more information about our club, training details, etc., please visit our website at http://seoulgaels.weebly.com . Or check out our facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/#!/seoul.gaels. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.