After a successful first season, the Fort McMurray Shamrocks have bigger and better plans for next year.
The Shamrocks, a gaelic football team, played as an unofficial member of the Western Canada Gaelic Athletic Association this season.
GAA games come from Ireland, where the original GAA is located. Gaelic football is the most popular of the GAA sports, and is similar to Aussie rules football. The sport is mainly popular in Ireland, but is played among the Irish diaspora. The game is played on a grass pitch with a goal that has uprights. Teams get a point for punching or kicking the ball between the uprights, and three points if the ball gets passed the goalkeeper and into the net. Players advance the ball in a number of ways, such as carrying, drop-kicking the ball into their hands, kicking the ball or hand-passing it to teammates. Players may also bounce the ball, but only once in a row. They are also allowed to carry the ball for three steps at a time.
"It's almost like a combination of sports like basketball, American football, Aussie rules, obviously soccer as well maybe," said Shane Gilhooley. "The game is a little different here. Back in Ireland we play 15 side, but over here we play 11 a side because the pitches aren't as big. We play on a lot of rugby fields here."
Fort McMurray actually had a gaelic football team in the 1970s, but it had gone without a team for many years until this season. Led by Gary Dolan — with Gilhooley assisting — the squad has 13 or 14 players playing on the team. Although mostly Irish members, there are also members from New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada. Despite the relatively small size of the squad, the team was very competitive against Western Canada GAA teams.
The team competed in the Alberta Cup in Red Deer and Edmonton over two weekends and managed to beat Calgary twice and tied Red Deer/Lethbridge to get to the final of the Alberta Cup against Edmonton.
"We lost by only three points and it was pretty close throughout," said Gilhooley. "I think we were missing about three or four of our players again, so it was kind of disappointing that we didn't have our full team, but I'm sure we would've got very close to winning."
The Shamrocks also competed in the Western Canadian Championship in Calgary at the end of July where they made it to the semi-finals before losing to the eventual winners, the Vancouver Harps.
Gilhooey said the team hopes they can host the first weekend of the Alberta Cup and that they can be officially admitted into the Western Canada GAA. They also have interest in adding a hurling team, hurling being another of the GAA sports except played with a hurley — a wooden stick that resembles a small hockey stick with a fat blade — and a small ball called a sliotar.
"We would love to get a hurling team off the ground, but it'd take a couple of years because not even Edmonton and Calgary have a team, " said Gilhooley.
Gilhooley said he was very pleased with the team's first season and looks forward to the next year.
"In the next year, there's more than likely going to be a lot more people coming over because of the situation in Ireland with the recession. So I wouldn't be surprised if we have a better team next year," he said. "If we can host the first round of the Alberta Cup next season, that will be good for Fort McMurray. We just want to thank everyone for a great season, especially Paddy McSwiggins for sponsoring us. If with didn't have them, we couldn't afford what we got. We hope next season we can get some more guys and maybe even a few locals and push it further."
Anyone interested in playing for the Shamrocks can contact Gilhooley at firstname.lastname@example.org or Gary Doolan at email@example.com. You can also check out the Fort McMurray Gaelic Association on facebook. Training for next season begins in April.
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