From Ireland to Island schools: Group aims to grow Gaelic football on P.E.I.

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Wanted: female Gaelic football players for Island team

If a group of Gaelic football enthusiasts on P.E.I. get their way, what's now a relatively unknown sport on the island will soon be a hit.  

Members of the group have started touring schools, introducing Ireland's national sport in phys-ed classes. 

"I thought it was going to be kind of a weird sport that just people in Ireland play.  But now that we started playing it, it's actually really fun," said Hunter Irving, a grade 9 student at Athena Consolidated, where students appropriately got an intro to the sport on St. Patrick's Day. 

Gaelic football combines the skills of soccer, rugby, basketball, and volleyball.

Ireland native Shane O'Neill, who now lives in Souris, says the Irish government and Gaelic Athletic Association are so keen to grow the sport in Canada, they're providing funding to Canadian schools to buy the necessary equipment to incorporate Gaelic football into gym classes. 

O'Neill says 18 P.E.I. schools will be able to take advantage. 

"We can use other equipment, but to do it right, you're better off having the proper equipment," said O'Neill, a member of P.E.I.'s branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association. "Unfortunately, it's not cheap because all the equipment has to come from Ireland. We don't have any suppliers in Canada because it's not big enough yet.

Part of curriculum

C.J. Studer, who teaches physical education at Athena Consolidated, says he's hoping to make Gaelic football a regular part of his curriculum. 

"Just having the equipment, I can introduce this into my curriculum quite easily," Studer said. "I can do the same skills as basketball or soccer and just add them to Gaelic football. So to diversify sports, as a phys-ed teacher, that's an amazing thing."

Students learning the sport at Athena on St. Patrick's Day told CBC they're keen to continue playing. 

"It's quite fun. I love how you get to do a bunch of sports combined together," said grade 9 student Isabella MacKay. 

'So enjoyable'

"The game is going to sell itself," added O'Neill. "It's the fastest growing sport in Europe, not because it's there, but because the game's so enjoyable."

O'Neill says the goal is to get enough young people interested and involved to justify a youth division at the 2018  Eastern Canadian Gaelic Football Championships, which Charlottetown is hosting. 

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