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Gaga for GAA: Gaelic Games in Dublin

By Visit DublinDublin's Official Tourism SiteBIO
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In the land of Saints and Scholars, there is another “S” that is equally important – Sport, and no sport is more important than those of the GAA. Throughout the year club and county Gaelic games dominate the sporting calendar but should your trip to Dublin fall between May and September, you might be confused by the palpable atmosphere of excitement, the heated debates and the colourful array of jerseys taking over the city streets.

Don’t worry, we can explain – it's GAA championship season!


Gaga for GAA: Gaelic Games in Dublin

The GAA

Formed in a small hotel in Thurles, Co Tipperary on 1st November 1884, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is not just a sport’s governing body, it also holds communities together and inspires the fiercest of rivalries.

Over 125 years later, the association has grown to encompass the whole country with every town, village or parish having a club and each county having teams that take part on the national stage.

The GAA is a way of life for many in Ireland with the greatest events being the All-Ireland Senior Championships in hurling, football and camogie.

Every county hopes to rise to victory in the September finals in Croke Park Stadium and lift the Liam McCarthy (hurling), Sam Maguire (football) or the O’Duffy (camogie) cups.

Hurling

Gaelic Games are not just a thing of myths and legends, despite being mentioned in many fairy tales of yore. Perhaps the most famous is the story of a young warrior called Setanta who used a sliotar (hurling ball) to defend himself from the attack of a hound owned by Culann. This led to his name being changed to Cú Chulainn (hound of Culann) and he is still one of Ireland’s most beloved heroes.

In recent times, television stations in the UK and Canada have shown hurling games much to the bemusement of their viewers. Social media was alight with comments such as:

  • "One of the craziest sports I have ever watched"
  • "How are people not killed playing this game?! Are there any rules?"
  • "How have I not heard of the sport 'Hurling' until just now. #awesome I want to play even though I won't walk again"

All going to prove that the fastest and possibly toughest field sport in the world is not for the faint-hearted! 

Akin to field hockey but played with a shorter stick, a “hurley” (called a camán in Irish) and a small ball, the aforementioned “slitoar”, the game is almost gladiatorial. The battle roar from the crowd spurring on the players will make you wish you were pulling on a jersey and taking to the pitch. The crack of the hurley against the slitoar, the intensity of the crowd and the sheer bravery of the players combine in an almost decadent display of determination and athleticism. With a few minor changes to reduce (slightly!) the physicality, a version of the game, called camoige, is played by women.

If you’re not able to catch a championship game in Croke Park, check out a Dublin GAA club game to get a taste for the passion and pure exhilaration. You can find out more about hurling by visiting the official GAA website where you will also get a list of upcoming matches allowing you to savour an ancient Irish sport.

Gaga for GAA: Gaelic Games in Dublin
Gaga for GAA: Gaelic Games in Dublin

Football

Ask most people in the world about the best footballers and they will wax lyrical about Ronaldo, Messi and Robben. Ask a Dub and you will hear the names Cluxton, Brogan and Connolly spoken in the same reverential tones. The “boys in blue” are the royalty of Dublin and during the championship they achieve an almost demi-god status.

The Senior Football Championship is broken down into provincial qualification rounds (Ireland has four provinces – Ulster, Munster, Connaught and Leinster) and with with Dublin current All-Ireland Champions, having beaten Kerry on the 20 September 2015, they are ranked the number one team in the country. While they have every reason to be proud, previous champions Kerry offer tough opposition as do Ulster teams – most recently Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan, and with a resurgence in Mayo’s prowess, the Dubs cannot afford to rest on their laurels for too long.

Dublin’s victory in 2015 cements their status as a team to be reckoned with and this self-assuredness is at its most evident on Hill 16 (Dubliners’ favourite section of Croke Park) where the crackle of excitement in the air, the almost ear busting roars and the emotional rollercoaster of a game will make the hairs stand on the back of your neck and you will feel more alive than you ever have before.

See all upcoming game fixtures on the official GAA website but be warned, the fast pace of the game makes for compulsive, edge of the seat viewing, so hold on tight!

Croke Park Stadium

Experiencing a match in Croke Park Stadium is exhilarating. From the atmospheric historic grounds, the easy banter in the stands, to the thrilling games unfolding on the hallowed turf, you are sure to be swept away by the pure pleasure of match day.

Located on the north side of Dublin just 1km from the city centre, the stadium has been expanded and redeveloped many times in its 100+ years of existence. It is now the third largest stadium in Europe (after Barcelona’s Nou Camp and London’s Wembley) with a match day capacity of 82,300.

The night before “Croker” is like Christmas Eve in so many houses throughout Ireland. A frisson of nervous energy builds to epic proportions and grown men and women are overcome with the anticipation of the next day’s events. The journey to Dublin is like a festival with flags and banners displayed on houses, buses and cars along the electrifying journey to the stadium. Pubs in the area such as “The Big Tree Tavern” and “The Hogan Stand Bar” are full to bursting point, spilling onto the streets in a carnival-esque manner. Neighbours and friends catch up with each other while strangers gently rib each other with good natured banter. Even if your county loses, your disappointment is tempered by the sense of occasion and the belief that there is always next year. 

It is impossible to truly capture in words or rationalise by pen the sheer invigorating buzz felt before you even reach the actual stadium, never mind the absolute delight of being in the stands for the throw in – you just have to be there.

Gaga for GAA: Gaelic Games in Dublin
Gaga for GAA: Gaelic Games in Dublin

The GAA Museum and Etihad Skyline

The story of the GAA is stunningly told in the museum dedicated to the association’s history and luckily for you, being able to swing a hurley or solo a football is not required to gain access to the ground with tours available of the stadium and GAA museum daily.

If the joy of immersing yourself in the truly Irish experience of the GAA wasn’t enough to make you feel like you were floating on air, get your head in the clouds at the Etihad Skyline at Croke Park. Take a guided tour of the walkways along the top of the stadium and experience breath-taking views of Dublin from viewing platforms 44 meters above the ground.