When it comes to opening lines of communication and understanding, sport has proven time and again to bring people of all stripes together.
That is certainly the case with Gaelic Football in the Cayman Islands, which brings both first timers and old pros of this Irish sport out for fun and competition through various tournaments and levels of play.
On Jan. 9 and 10, a dozen teams competed in the 2016 FLOW Mixed 9s Gaelic football Championship at the Cayman International School in George Town.
Team Harmonic are champs
Seasoned players and novices played alongside each other, through group and knockout stages where Team Harmonic came out champions after narrowly losing out in previous years.
They took home the Pete O’Neill trophy, beating team FLOW in an entertaining final.
The weekend witnessed grueling and closely fought matches, where spectators were treated to what appears to be amazing things ahead in the Gaelic Football season starting later this month.
“The Cayman Islands Gaelic Football Club is one of the longest running sporting clubs on the island,” said the club’s public relations officer, Dave O’Driscoll.
“From humble beginnings, the size of the club today pays testament to the committed and fun-loving members it retains.”
Non-Irish members account for more than half of the club.
Players come from Cayman, the U.K., New Zealand, Canada and other countries.
The fun-loving nature of the club and socially-embracing members attract people from all nations and industries in the Cayman Islands, Mr. O’Driscoll said.
To accommodate the rising interest, the league is expanding from eight teams to 12 this year.
Social events include fundraising table quizzes and the end-of-season Gala Awards Dinner. Last year the club hosted a children’s fun day at the Cayman International School, with kids of all ages learning the fundamentals of the sport.
“The day was such a success that talks are under way to host a kids Gaelic Football camp this year, with the hopes of setting up an under-age league, not unlike what Cayman Rugby has achieved in recent years,” said Mr. O’Driscoll.
Last year saw the club’s most successful international tour, where both the men’s and women’s teams took home silverware from the Gaelic Football Championships in Chicago.
That trip was the fourth invitation to the prestigious tournament.
“All these events would not be possible, of course, without a dedicated volunteer committee, which meets all year long to discuss and organise the year’s itinerary,” said Mr. O’Driscoll.
He said plans for this year include another international tour, this time to Seattle, Washington. Players are selected from the year’s league by a dedicated coaching group, and will train throughout the summer.
Mr. O’Driscoll said the first Cayman Gaelic football match was played between an Ulster 15 team and a Rest of Ireland Select 15 team at the Rugby Club in South Sound on July 18, 1987.
It was then decided that a second match should be organized for St. Patrick’s Day the following year. This proved successful to the point that the game now is a centerpiece of Cayman’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
As the sport’s popularity grew, an informal men’s 7-a-side league was established in 1998. The team names, Western Gaels, Wolfe Tones, Gabriels and Cabra Gaels, have been retained to this day.
Following the success of the league, with more than 40 players, it was decided to establish a formal club, complete with constitution and officers, and a meeting was held on May 19, 1999.
The inaugural women’s football league was organized in 2001. The team names, Na Piarsaigh, Buffer’s Alley and Oliver Plunketts, also have been retained by the league ever since.
The club has now become an integral part of the Cayman sports and social calendar, with current playing members now reaching 300.
“As well as the Mixed 9s tournament in January, the league which runs from January to June, and the St. Patrick’s Day family event, the club also hosts the International Rules test matches between Ireland and ‘The Rest of the World,’ a battle for bragging rights which carries a lot of weight,” noted Mr. O’Driscoll.
For more information, email [email protected] or visit www.caymangaa.com.