The NFL season is well underway in the US, but Ireland’s football season is nearly over, with its equivalent of the Super Bowl taking place this Sunday in Dublin at a sold-out Croke Park.
Some 82,000 fans will see home team Dublin face Kerry in the All-Ireland football final, and countless members of the Irish diaspora around the world will tune in to watch the match live.
And in pretty much every way it will be better than any NFL game.
Gaelic football is faster and more exciting than American football, and the players are not paid to play, so, unlike the NFL, it’s not so much about money, egos, and scandals as it is about passion, heart, and pride.
Here’s why attending a football match in Ireland should be on every sports fan’s bucket list:
Gaelic footballers are more interesting to watch.
This fast game combines elements of several sports, including soccer, rugby, and even basketball, just to name a few.
For every four steps, players must bounce the ball off their foot and alternate that with bouncing it off the ground.
Players have more freedom when it comes to playmaking.
There’s more variety and action on the ball, and drives to the goal create a certain suspense that you just don’t get in the NFL. It’s much more lively, and the players have more freedom when it comes to playmaking. (And yes, players can tackle each other — it’s something between a soccer tackle and a rugby tackle.)
Pure speed and agility.
Watch this guy seamlessly fake out an opponent, give the ball a required bounce, then drop-kick it in for a goal.
Scoring-wise it’s more unpredictable — at the last second players can switch up the type of score they want to go for.
If players can’t score a goal (three points) they can try through the uprights (for one point).
Then there’s hand-passing the ball — players hit the ball with the sides of their fists.
Gaelic footballers don’t get paid.
Gaelic football, Ireland’s most popular sport, is a highly competitive game played by sportsmen at a professional level, yet the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) prohibits players from accepting money to play. So officially speaking GAA players are amateurs, but they are very much pro athletes, not to mention Ireland’s working-class heroes. Many work full-time jobs and have to train outside work, school, and family life.
… so Irish footballers don’t get the ridiculous contracts you see in the NFL.
There are those in Ireland who argue that GAA athletes should be paid, just like other pro athletes, but that doesn’t look likely to happen anytime soon. (Some GAA athletes do earn money from endorsements.) GAA athletes play because they love the sport and want to represent their respective counties, underscoring the game’s strong tribal element. Locals say that the pride a Gaelic footballer feels playing in his home county’s jersey is unreal — like winning a gold medal.
You can actually see the players.
Gaelic footballers don’t wear helmets, equipment, and other protective gear — just shorts, jerseys, and spikes — so you can see them in their human element. Even so, you don’t have anything close to the number of brutal injuries you see in the NFL, which can lead to long-term health problems.
Amazingly, spectacular plays like this are common enough.
Gaelic footballers’ skill with the ball is extraordinary.
A big leap and a huge grab — right in front of the goal.
NFL games run well over three hours — yet there’s only 11 minutes of actual play.
NFL games can just drag on and on. Gaelic football lasts for 70 minutes (two halves of 35 minutes). An average NFL game has more than 100 commercials and just 11 minutes of play.
An NFL game is a stop-start affair, but Gaelic football is an energy burst from start to finish, with the briefest of pauses only after a point or a goal is scored.
The action is virtually constant …
… and unlike the Super Bowl, the All-Ireland football final doesn’t feel like a corporate deluge of vapid TV commercials and overhyped half-time shows …
And that’s refreshing.
Gaelic football goes on virtually nonstop for two blistering halves and a short break in between.
And Gaelic football doesn’t have all those time-outs.
This Sunday, Gaelic football fans around the world will be bouncing off the walls.
For more information, go to GAA.ie.
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