Fast, furious and frenetic, Gaelic football is about to make its muscular presence felt in Cambodia on Saturday with Phnom Penh’s first all-day tournament.
Only founded in October, the 134-year-old sport’s newest club Cairde Khmer are set to host the first Gaelic games ever held in the Kingdom.
Gaelic football is often simplistically referred to as a cross between soccer and rugby as the goals have both a soccer-style crossbar and net and the tall posts of rugby, and both hands and feet can be used.
Teams from Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam, including the Saigon Gaels, are set to take part in men’s and ladies matches.
An exhibition match of the exciting stick-wielding game of hurling, the world’s fastest field sport, will also take place.
Cairde, which means “friends” in Irish, are registered members of the Asian County Board, which oversees all the clubs and tournaments in Asia. The ACB is itself affiliated with the sport’s governing body, the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland.
The club aims to double its membership and increase player numbers to be able to field men’s and ladies A and B Gaelic football teams.
One of their main goals is to increase the number of Cambodian players on both the ladies and men’s teams, so they represent a minimum of 25 percent of Cairde Khmer players.
‘You need to combine skills’
“I first heard of the GAA from a friend. I didn’t really know what to expect not having even heard of Gaelic football before,” Cheth Kanika, a 28-year-old female player said of the game. “I found the sport quickly growing on me. Back in school I always liked sport, but I never worked out if I was more into football or basketball. This is what makes Gaelic so great – you don’t have to pick!
“You need to combine the skills required for both, with the bonus of rugby thrown in. During the first training, I was pleasantly surprised and engaged with how easy it was to pick up the game’s basics.”
Cairde Khmer is supported by SCOOP Foundation, a registered Irish free education and community development charity that has been working in Cambodia since 2008, and popular backpacker hostel chain Mad Monkey.
This year Cairde plan to organise four inter-club mixed games (two in Phnom Penh and two in Siem Reap); two international rules (a hybrid of Gaelic and Aussie rules) games in Phnom Penh; and also host one international tournament in the capital.
The club also has international aims, with plans to participate in the Indochina Cup in Vietnam, the South Asian Gaelic Games in Singapore and the Asian Gaelic Games in Bangkok
Joe Trolan, the chairperson of the Asian County Board, said: “I am very excited about watching the first ever official GAA event in Cambodia. The GAA president has been briefed about the event as well.
“It is amazing to see what everyone has done in Cambodia to promote Gaelic games. What is even better to see is the outreach to make the team diverse and welcoming.”
The first ever first Gaelic games in Cambodia are set to start at 1pm at the ISPP fields on Saturday, with the games lasting until 7pm as the finalists battle it out under floodlights. An after party and presentation ceremony will be held from 7pm-8:30pm.
Entry to the tournament is free, and burgers and refreshments will be on offer all day. Full details can be found on Facebook.