Gaelic football takes roots in France

Paris Gaels - Liffré © T.Joly
Every year new Gaelic football teams are set up in France. At the origin of the development of this game, Irish expats still dominates the national tournaments with the Paris Gael GAA but competition is becoming more and more fierce.

[ Information ]

- Brest, Gaelic Football Bro-Leon
- Liffré, Entente Gaélique de Haute-Bretagne
- Lempdes Clermont Ferrand
- Lyon, Lugdunum CLG
- Nantes Football Gaélique
- Paris Gaels
- Rennes Ar Gwazi Gouez
- Saint Quay Perros, Gaelic Football Bro Dreger
- Vannes, Gwened Football Gaélique
vannesfootballgaelique.googlepages .com
- Brittany championship
Vannes, Saturday February 7th, 2009
Nantes, Saturday February 28th, 2009
Brest, Saturday March 14th, 2009
Trégor, Saturday April 25th, 2009
Liffré, Saturday May 16th, 2009
- French championship
Lempdes-Clermont, Saturday March 28th, 2009
Jersey, Saturday May 02nd, 2009
Guernesey, Saturday May 30th, 2009
Paris, Saturday June 27th, 2009
- Euroleague
Munich, Saturday July 25th, 2009
Copenhagen, Saturday August 29th, 2009
Rennes, Saturday October 03rd, 2009
Maastricht , Saturday October 31st, 2009
Fédération Française de Football Gaélique
Originally from Ireland where it is the most popular sport, Gaelic football has been played in France for the last fifteen years. Although it grows every year, playing numbers remains limited and apart from the insiders few people know the rules of this sport, which they describe as a mix between football and rugby. Probably because this fast and physical game is played on a rectangular field dotted at both ends with football goals surmounted with rugby posts.

Paris Gaels GAA © T.Joly
 Thanks to the Irish expats
However many differences exist between Gaelic football and its soccer and rugby cousins. Two armed rugby tackles are prohibited and offside / forward passes are allowed. A player in possession may carry the ball a maximum of four steps before either bouncing the ball on the ground back to himself or kicking the ball to himself, a skill known as “soloing”. Passes are given either with the foot or by a striking motion with the hand or fist. The ball itself is slightly smaller, and heavier than a soccer one. In terms of scoring, when a goal is scored it is worth three points and when it goes over the crossbar and between the uprights it is worth one point.
Gaelic football first spread in France thanks to the Irish expats who founded a club in 1994, Paris Gael GAA, with its original non-official headquarters being an Irish pub – The Coolin - located in the 6th arrondissement. These days the club boasts around 100 active members, 65 men and 35 women, and 250 social non-playing members. The majority of the players are still Irish, about 65, but there are also a number of French, Scots, English, Australians and Americans. It’s by far the largest club in France - as there are only 250 players in the whole country – and they are able to enroll two squads in the majority of tournaments.

Paris Gaels - Liffré © T.Joly
 European competition
“But the Paris Gaels also has a social vocation. It is a meeting point for the Irish community and we help newcomers to integrate into Parisian life, to find employment, accommodation, etc…” adds the club president, Darran Lovely.
Each year the club takes part in the Euroleague, which is reserved for the teams of Continental Europe, and is a competition that is divided into two stages. First, from March to June they compete within five regional championships : North-West Europe (France and Channel Islands), Benelux, Iberia (Spain and Portugal), North-Eastern Europe (Germany, Austria and Eastern Europe) and Scandinavia. During this regional phase each club hosts a tournament played off in “blitz” format, with each team playing each other on the day. There are then points allocated to the teams according to their ranking.
After all regional tournaments - typically four per region - have been played the top two teams from each zone qualify for the “Pan European Championship”. This is an elite competition played over four tournaments from July to October. Usually they are hosted in four of the five listed regions. The remaining clubs participate in a secondary competition, the European Shield, which also takes place at the same four venues.

Paris Gaels - Brussels © T.Joly
 More and more clubs
Since 2006 the North Western regional stage also acts as the French championship and till now the winner has always been the Paris Gaels GAA. In addition the club has also been crowned Men’s Pan European champion in 2001, 2003 and 2005. Regarding the ladies, as there are fewer participating teams, they compete in a season long Pan European competition, comprising of seven tournaments. The Paris Gaels ladies were crowned European champions in 2007.
However the Paris Gaels supremacy is becoming more and more contested as there are a number of teams on the rise. Clubs were recently set up in Vannes, Saint Quay, near Lannion, Lempdes, near Clermont-Ferrand and Lyon. They joined the first pioneers, Paris Gael, Liffré, Nantes, Brest and Rennes who, like Paris, has also a ladies team. Other teams like Brest organize mixed games in order to try to establish a dedicated ladies team.
Furthermore there are many more clubs at the planning stage such as Lorient, Guérande, Toulouse, Mont-de-Marsan, Nice, Aix-en-Provence, Poitiers and Lille. In addition the INSA, a third level institution in Rennes has launched a university competition.

Paris Gaels GAA © T.Joly
 Lack of resources
Are they signs that herald a real French Championship coming soon ?.. It’s perhaps too early to say. “We would like and we work to initiate new competitions in France, maybe a cup first. But our sport lacks resources. As it is not nationally known and not recognized by the head sporting organizations most of the teams don’t have any sponsor and don’t get any help from the city councils. And when they do get something it’s not subsidies but administrative facilities and access to sport amenities. And, as the team are scattered all around France it makes the transportation costly”, underlines Guillaume Kerrien, a current member of the Nantes side and secretary of the French Federation of Gaelic Football (FFFG) that was founded in 2006. A real problem in particular for the Paris Gael club as almost all of its games are played at significant distances from Paris, either in Western France or in other European countries. “Our players must contribute to the transportation and accommodation expenses but we try to keep this cost as low as possible by negotiating corporate sponsorship and also organizing a number of fundraising events such quizzes, slave nights or a half marathon challenge”, explains Darran Lovely.

Rennes - Liffré © T.Joly
 Brittany championship
A situation that is less painful for the clubs of Western France. As there are many teams there, they have fewer kilometers to travel in order to play games and as a result a Brittany championship was created in 2004. This competition has since been won in turn by Rennes and Liffré.
In this region of Celtic origin Gaelic football grows quickly because it is considered part of Celtic culture. Clubs are often founded by locals, not by Irish expats, and almost all the players are also Britons, which contributes to the longevity of the game in the region. Sign of their new found passion for Gaelic football was the creation of the Breton League in mid 2008 and last year it was passed as a subject choice of the Baccalaureat in two academies of the region. Physical education teachers have indeed introduced the game to many of the schools. At the origin of the Rennes ladies team and a former player of high level team in Ireland, Anne-Marie O’Rourke is also coaching and giving introduction sessions in primary and secondary classes.

Paris Gaels - Guernsey © T.Joly
 Beach Gaelic football
As do Philippe Cornilleau and Olivier Kowarski who are in charge of Youth Development for the FFFG. Also contributing to the development of the sport was the organizing, last summer, of a beach Gaelic football competition which was held in Pornichet.
For all that there is still no real Gaelic football field, neither in Brittany nor in Paris. The pitches used are smaller than the ones in Ireland where they are 140 m long and 80 m wide. “As to the goals, depending if we play on a football or a rugby pitch, either we add a net on the lower part of the rugby posts or we manage to fix wooden posts over the football goals”, explains Guillaume Kerrien.
As a consequence the French teams are not made up of 15 players, like in Ireland, but only of 11, and the length of the games is twice fifteen minutes instead of twice thirty-five minutes. But one thing is similar in both countries, in the evening time, once the tournament is over, everybody meet to party and drink together.

January 31, 2009
Thierry Joly