Cup Match with an Irish twist

  • Cup champs: Gaels captain Seamus Fearon, left, and wing forward Mark Halpin hoist the trophy at North Field, National Sports Centre, after a comfortable victory over the Shamrocks (Photograph by Raymond Hainey)
  • A St George’s Gaels player brings the ball out of defence at North Field (Photograph by Raymond Hainey)

Somerset Shamrocks 2-7-13 St George’s Gaels 4-8-20

“It’s Cup Match, Jim — but not as we know it,” as Star Trek’s Dr McCoy almost said.

Somerset in red did line up against St George’s in blue in a cup clash — but perhaps the first clue that Bermuda had entered a sporting twilight zone was that St George’s ran out clear winners.

The game was Gaelic football and two teams of 15 each squared up against each other for the fourth Jimmy Quinn Memorial Trophy, named after an Irish actuary tragically killed in a scooter accident in 2009.

And — when the final whistle blew at the National Sports Centre — Somerset Shamrocks found a last-quarter surge was too little, too late against a St George’s Gaels side who had stamped their dominance on the game in the early stages.

Game organiser and Somerset Shamrocks captain Paddy Furlong said: “We tried to change around a bit in the second half — we went to man marking and tried to mark our opponents.

“But time ran out. The second quarter was where we kind of lost it and that was the winning of it for them.

“It was a closer game than we expected, but we just didn’t make the changes quick enough.”

The game even managed a pitch invasion, which briefly stopped play — but it is unlikely the game’s ruling body the Gaelic Athletic Association will take any action.

Little Enya Fearon, aged two, stormed the pitch on her own in search of her dad, St George’s Gaels captain Seamus Fearon. But mom Stephanie turned riot squad, scooped Enya up and escorted her off the pitch so play could continue.

Gaelic football — whose origins date back more than 700 years — has been called a mix between football and rugby.

One of the earliest mentions of the sport was in 1308, when John McCrocan, a spectator at a football game in Newcastle, South Dublin, was charged with stabbing a player called William Barnard.

But standards have been tightened up a bit since then and sticking the knife in — except in a purely figurative sense — is these days frowned upon.

Teams use a round ball like Association Football, but players can kick it and hand pass it using the side of a closed fist.

The goals look like the H-shaped rugby ones — but with a football goal and goalkeeper added in.

Putting the ball over the crossbar by kicking the ball or using a closed fist wins one point. A goal — beating the keeper and kicking the ball into the back of the net — converts to three points.

But players can strike the ball into the net with their fist if the ball was played to him by another player or came into contact with the post, crossbar or the ground before he hits it. The scoring system means, for example, St George’s Gaels scored four goals, which is equal to 12 points, and eight points — a total of 20, which gives the scoring layout of 4-8-20.

Players commit a foul if they go five steps without releasing, bouncing the ball, which can only be done twice, or soloing the ball — which involves a mini-drop kick back into the player’s own hands and which can be repeated indefinitely.

The game is normally played in two halves of 30 minutes, but as there were no substitutes at the National Sports Centre, the match was split into quarters to give the players extra breaks.

Furlong said after the Sunday match: “It’s been called a cross between soccer and rugby.

The Bermuda clash came two weeks after the All-Ireland Final. Furlong said: “It’s nice to have an all-Bermuda final here — although not quite to the same standard.”

But Furlong said players did not have to be Irish to play the game.

Which is a bit like the national soccer squad, where, in similar-sized, but far less successful nations, it is muttered darkly that all you need to do to qualify to play for Ireland is to have flown on Irish airline Aer Lingus.

And a laissez faire attitude was evident at National Stadium, with players from the Cayman Islands, England, Scotland, the United States and South Africa turning out. There were even a couple of men from Down Under, whose Australian Rules football is said to be the antipodean lovechild of the Irish game.

Furlong said it was hoped to widen the appeal of Gaelic football in Bermuda and gain registration with the GAA.

He added: “We want to do a tour of the US in the future as a Bermuda team and get the GAA to recognise us.”