The Asian Gaelic Games (AGGs), October 2013, Kuala Lumpur. The heat and humidity was unforgiving on that second day, and our bodies had been pushed to the absolute limit. Gathered in a huddle before the plate final, I found myself looking around to try and get the measure of my new teammates. I was still becoming acquainted with the ethos of the club, and the personalities of the men surrounding me, and I still felt as though I had a lot to prove having only joined two months previous. Rob Murphy commanded the center. The inspirational leader that he was, stared into our souls as he spoke with measured emotion. A rousing pre-game speech from a man who was about to play his last game for Seoul Gaels: expressing without recoil all that the club represented to him, what we as his teammates – his brothers – meant to him, and what he was prepared to do in order to bow out victorious. At that instant, I caught the eye of Sean Cummane standing across from me. A Seoul Gaels legend and an established senior player – a soft spoken, unassuming, passionate man – stared back at me with tears in his eyes.
I’d been part of successful teams in the past, I’d experienced the intensity of senior championship football with my club O’Dempseys, and I’d represented my county, but this was a different animal, the likes of which I’d never before experienced. I wasn’t expecting to find this level of intensity, and pure, raw emotion, in an expat club in South Korea, of all places. If before I was unsure as to the drive, motivation, and unity that existed amongst these people, and the pride that they had in the club and the crest, I had absolutely no doubt now whatsoever. This group of men – this club – was special.
A defining moment is a point at which the essential nature or character of a person – or a group – is revealed or identified. This, undoubtedly, was one.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I find myself in my fourth season with Seoul Gaels, my third as captain. The excitement is starting to build once more as the next big tournament is only a matter of weeks away, the China Games in Beijing. This will be the second weekend of competitive action in our season to date, after the first round of the Korean League took place last month in Busan. The Korean League takes place over three weekends in summer, as Seoul, Daegu and Busan compete for silverware. As dominant as we have been in recent seasons on the peninsula, Daegu and Busan have been making strides and we never take anyone lightly.
That being said, the domestic competition is seen as simply an important rung in the ladder; a chance to build momentum and test things out en route to the AGGs. That goes for every tournament we take part in from now until then, including the China Games later this month, and the North Asian Gaelic Games (NAGGs) in Busan in July.
I’m not going to lie to you by saying that it’s the taking part that counts. We have a goal in mind, and we have been preparing to reach that goal since last October, when we departed the field as defeated finalists for the second consecutive year at the AGG’s. This year we hope the outcome will be different; third time lucky as that old saying goes.
But winning isn’t everything, I hear you say. I agree. Real growth comes with the journey; the sacrifices made and the energy expended along the way, and that bond which forms between a group of people as a result. This is a huge part of what’s required in order to be successful, and I think that is part of the appeal of our club. Yes, we do cater to those who are interested in the social aspect of the sport, but ultimately, as in any sport, people play because they want to compete. Real bonds aren’t formed while perched on a bar stool, they are formed on the pitch – deep in the trenches – in those backs-against-the-wall moments when character is revealed.
Yes, winning isn’t everything. But it has to be the goal.
Preparations have been going pretty well, and intensity in training has been consistently building. As an expat club, we welcome players of all levels and sporting backgrounds, and it’s truly inspiring to see complete beginners come in and immerse themselves in the sport, and the culture of the club. It’s interesting to train alongside the new blood, and although it can be frustrating at times trying to navigate the difference in skill level, it’s exciting at the end of it all. You find yourself looking around for potential. Those players who may push for a starting place on the team and improve the dynamics of the group – the characters. Like the 6 ft 6 man mountain named Paul, a US Army Ranger who joined this year. In only our second training session, he knocked me into 2017 with a shoulder, and followed it up by sticking out his paw and saying appreciatively, “Good hit, brother.”
That’s what it’s all about.
Having spent the harsh winter months on the tarmac and in the gym, it’s always exciting for us to be able to lace up the boots, and don the green and black of Seoul Gaels once again. It holds extra significance for the China Games this month, as we depart for Beijing as defending champions. We emerged victorious last year, overturning a strong Shanghai side in the final in their own back yard. No doubt they will be baying for blood this time around. Championship football – there is nothing quite like it.
I never could have imagined the journey that would unfold after standing in that huddle under the Malaysian sun, back in October of 2013. There have been highs and lows – blood, sweat, and tears – and eternal bonds formed since. Now we find ourselves scaling the mountain once more, and at the end of the month we will have a very good indication of where we are at, and in what areas we need to improve upon going forward. All in the hope of course, that we can go one step further in November, and achieve greatness with this special group of people.
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