Liam O’Neill who is President of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) elaborated to the media on comments he made last week that overseas football and hurling players would overtake players in Ireland.
O’Neill cited the expansion of GAA clubs on the east coast to support his ambition. The Rockland Club, which is north of the Bronx has six or seven hundred children in its juvenile program. The club has acquired more land and plans to invest in its facilities.The Shannon Gaels in Queen are also expanding their facilities after they acquired land from the state.
Many more young players would have to join their local GAA club to make the president’s goal a reality. GAA players overseas total just 16,000 which pales in comparison to Ireland’s 250,000. Oversea players figure less than 10% of Ireland’s players.
However, the gap between the players is slowly closing. Gaelic football is becoming increasingly popular among women. O’Neill said, “If I was intending to sell Gaelic football around the world, I would probably lead with [women]. The take-up among women would be much faster than with men. I think we have failed so far to grasp that reality.” The noticeable popularity of GAA sports with women will help bring up discussion about enhanced integration of women’s sports association with the GAA.
Gaelic football isn’t just popular with Irish Americans. Those with no Irish connection have been picking up the sport as well. O’Neill hopes to develop the sport in Asia. The new leader of China, Xi Jinping visited Ireland earlier this year and was pictured kicking a football and holding a hurley, which is used in the Gaelic sport of hurling.
He said, “The visit of the vice-president was significant and the fact that he took a hurley in his hand is also significant. It’s no longer about the emigrant going abroad and growing the GAA; it’s about the emigrant gone abroad whose child is now playing games. That’s where the growth is going to be.”
O’Neill recognizes that to achieve these goals, there will have to be better media promotion of the games. The first step towards that goal would be to gain the international television rights. O’Neill said about television rights, “It will be part of the new package when this one ends in 2014. If the GAA are going to grow abroad it will have to be done through television.” A solid television promotion would also increase the sports’ popularity in China. He said, “If we can get our Tv campaign tidied up abroad and actually publicise our games then I think there would be a huge take-up in China because China is supposed to be the place where ball and stick games originated.”