Northern Ireland

History in London as British Army unit plays first GAA game

Image copyright Brendan Vaughan
Image caption Action from the Irish Guards' (in black and green) first game of Gaelic football

History was made in London on Saturday afternoon when a Gaelic football team from a British Army regiment played their first official game.

Against the surreal backdrop of pitches adjacent to Wormwood Scrubs Prison, the Irish Guards played an all-English born team from city club Tir Chonaill Gaels.

"It's the best day we've had since we came to England," said Irish Guards manager Tom after the game.

"It's just fantastic to be here today."

Recently renamed Naomh Padraig, The Irish Guards lined out in jerseys bearing the name Gardaí Éireannach.

The debutants lost 1-7 to 0-6 after a close contest.

Former London GAA manager Paul Coggins, who took charge of the Tir Chonaill team on the day, described the occasion as "historic".

"We all have to live with each other at the end of the day and it's all about sport," he said.

During the preseason contest a sweep of accents from Dublin, Clare and Fermanagh could be clearly heard on the sidelines.

Interestingly, they all belonged to players from the Irish Guards.

Tom, from Waterford, said the idea for the team came about when Irish solders serving in the regiment were completing a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"Everywhere we go we take our jerseys and hurls," he said.

"We happened to be pucking about one day and there was a throwaway comment about having our own team.

"Of course, there are people against it and I'd never hold a grudge against anyone.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinions. But for me, GAA has always been about where you are from and where you grew up and for us, where we are from, our community is the Irish Guards.

"These guys are as close as you can get to being brothers."

For York-born goalkeeper David, the historic contest was his first experience of Gaelic football.

"There were posters up looking for people to play and the coach walked past my room and he was like 'do you want to play?'

"And I said 'Yeah, why not?'

"So I rocked up and went in goal. It's probably where I belong.

"I'm immensely proud. We are living in each others pockets, know each others strengths and weaknesses and like that.

"I think we probably have the tightest team in the world in terms of team cohesion."

The team was accepted into the London Junior Football Championship in September and survived a January proposal for their removal from the competition by city hurling club Granuaile.

"We're living in a world of sport and as soon as you walk out into that pitch it doesn't matter who you are.

"This is 2016. It's a new world." said the goalkeeper.