The GAA in recent years has championed the idea of international expansion. While nobody expects to see hurling replacing hockey on the Olympic schedule there has been significant growth in the profile of Gaelic games and in participation around the world.
Yesterday in Australia an Irish team of GAA stars, albeit minus any players from Dublin for a variety of reasons, took on an Australian selection from the AFL in the latest rendition of an International Rules Series that first took place in Dublin in 1967 and has existed in its current guise since 1999.
Times change, fashions ebb and flow but every time someone sounds a death knell on the series it comes back with fresh vigour.
Coca-Cola, GAA Go, the Irish Daily Mail and now Eirgrid have been enticed into partnership with this most quintessentially Irish of teams and while this weekend they gave way in terms of public excitement to the stars of rugby and soccer, there does still remain something special about playing for Ireland as a GAA player in international competition.
This was the first event overseas in recent times but it has been joined in the quest for international expansion by others.
Next weekend it will be the turn of four inter-county squads to travel West to Boston to take part in the AIG sponsored Fenway Classic. A first trip with the concept of Super 11’s hurling took place four years ago to South Bend and the campus of Notre Dame University.
Players including Lar Corbett pucked around on the quad drawing a curious crowd and thousands went across to the University Lacrosse Pitch where an exhibition of hurling in a short form version was played. Two years ago the concept moved north to Boston and the Fenway Sports Group got involved with the Gaelic Players Association, AIG and Aer Lingus to bring Irish sport to a second generation Irish audience.
Super 11’s addressed one of the key stumbling blocks in a more regular exhibition style touring of Gaelic Games, the 40-metre difference in length between a GAA pitch and those of Soccer or American Football. Having a shorter pitch can be accommodated, as we saw with rugby and soccer in Croke Park during the transition from Lansdowne Road to the Aviva Stadium.
Having a longer pitch would require an advanced degree in demolition and rebuilding of one or two ends of a stadium.
Rather than going down that route the obvious solution, though one which had never been tried, was to reduce the number of players and adapt the rules.
Super 11’s first full outing saw Galway and Dublin score plenty of points, and a few punches but the appetite was sufficient for the owners of the Boston Red Sox to decide to go again and to go bigger.
This year Galway return as All Ireland Champions. Dublin take the opportunity to travel as a group under new manager Pat Gilroy, though shorn of their AIB All Ireland Club Championship chasing cohort from Cuala. They will play one semi-final, Clare and Tipperary will meet in the other and the Final will be played the same day.
The fixtures look well on course for being a sellout and they will be broadcast on NASN and back to Ireland on TG4. It has growth, it has potential and it has a level of interest in a nation where 70 million claim Irish descent.
The US has proved a popular venue for All Stars Tours in the past though this years will go East, under new sponsorship from PwC bringing the Hurling stars of 2016 and 2017 to Singapore.
Camogie is also travelling this year, for the first time with the support of Liberty Insurance and they will play an exhibition match in Madrid at the end of this month.
Add in the 20-year history of the Asian Games taking place in Bangkok next week and backed by International Financial Services heavyweights Fexco and First Derivatives and you see a pattern emerging of players travelling the world in November, partly as a reward for endeavours at home but also to play their part in encouraging indigenous growth.
The Asian Games welcomes 65 teams from 20 countries. The GAA World Games staged in Ireland last year as part of the 1916 Centenary Commemorations drew 87 from Australia, South Africa, Argentina, China, Canada, the Middle East, the United States, Europe, and Britain.
The European Unit of the GAA is the fastest growing with representation across the continent. Many of the players have no connection to Ireland but are drawn by the physicality, speed and skill.
The GAA was originally founded to provide a sense of Irishness in sport. It displaced the one-time cricket strongholds of Tipperary and Kilkenny.
Now it seems its ambitions are spread wider, and its appeal to sponsors at home and abroad continues to climb with those ambitions.
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