More than a thousand GAA players will descent on Waterford from all continents this weekend for the third instalment of the Renault GAA World Games.
For the first time, the majority of the players will have been born outside Ireland, with over 60% of the 1,100 competitors representing native-born teams.
They’ll travel from all around the globe, emigrants and locals alike. South Africa will be represented by teams from the townships of Johannesburg, where three full-time development officers are employed to grow the game.
The newly-formed San Isidro Gaelico will bring a team of Argentines to Ireland — with one of their star players and chairman called Francisco Lynch.
A mix of cultures in a name and a microcosm of the World Games, which begin tomorrow with an opening parade through Waterford before the Games throw-in at Waterford IT the next day. The finals, on Friday, will be hosted at Croke Park.
Of those returning to home soil, 2017 Kerry ladies football captain and All Star Caroline Kelly will likely be the highest-profile of them all as she lines out for Australia’s Irish-born team. John Heneghan will also represent Australia. A former Waterford minor and U21 hurler from Lismore, who’s known for co-founding the G’Day GAA podcast, he will stay here another three weeks to get married to his fiancee Gill. Another podcast co-founder, Sean O’Leary from Watergrasshill, will be playing in the Games too.
Katrina Wagstaff, a member of the first native Russian team to compete, also organised her wedding around the games, moving her big day so she wouldn’t have to miss the competition.
“Their passion and the joy they hold for the games is unparalleled. It’s equal to what many Irish people have here,” said games communications officer Eoghan Tuohey.
“It’s something that’s unnoticed among the Irish population here. People just aren’t aware this exists and it’s such a wide ecosystem that exists throughout the world, and is growing at an unprecedented rate. There are over 420 clubs outside of Ireland currently and growing all the time.”
Eighty-four teams will compete across the week, up 30 from the 2016 games, with eight trophies up for grabs across hurling, camogie, and men’s and ladies’ football in the Irish and native-born sections.
The native-born teams will also be bussed across Waterford on Tuesday for a twinning evening with local clubs.
As well as being a social and cultural event, each team from abroad will learn how the Waterford clubs operate, and vice versa, providing a network of contacts and ideas for future development.
Two children from each Waterford club will also march in the opening parade with their twinned team.
“No matter where you come from, they’ve found solace in the GAA community and in what it represents and what it can create for them. The shared values they have seem to translate regardless of where they come from. It’s amazing to see, really,” says Tuohey.
“It can be recognised worldwide and it appeals to so many people. They’ve been given the opportunity of the more traditional sports they have in their region and they’ve said: ‘I buy more into the ethos and the culture of this’.
“Obviously, the games themselves are an attraction but it’s more the community spirit and the atmosphere they find when they’re participating in Gaelic games.”
The LGFA announced on Thursday that their trophies will be named after Rachel Kenneally, the former Tipperary ladies footballer, and Rebecca Dowling, a Kildare-native who was a member of the Thai GAA club in Bangkok. Both passed away in the previous 18 months after battles with cancer.
After the finals on Friday, a hurling-lacrosse exhibition game will take place. Intended to help spread hurling to new audiences and described as the next generation in hybrid Gaelic games, it will feature the German hurling team taking on the Irish lacrosse team.
The goalkeepers will switch teams, so the hurling keeper is facing shots from his fellow hurlers, and the lacrosse goalie defends shots thrown by lacrosse sticks. Goals and points can be scored from the front of the posts and points only from behind the posts.