Gaelic Sport Comes to Shoreline Stadium This Saturday

Seattle Gaels are bringing Gaelic Football to an actual stadium this week, just for you.

The beauty of being a city of immigrants is that immigrants bring their sport with them. Growing up in Seattle, I played rugby, soccer, Aussie Rules, and field hockey in both school and intramural leagues. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve attended events of professional ultimate frisbee, women’s rugby, takraw, cricket, lacrosse, and a dozen other sports that would have been impossible to see in Middle America.

And we’re obviously quite good at them, too. Seattle teams have won national championships in Aussie Rules Football, rugby union and hurling in the past five years.

The sports are there. The players are there. I’d love to see more audiences.

Undoubtedly that’s what the Seattle Gaels hope to attract when they host the Seattle Sevens Tournament, or more properly the USGAA Northwest Regional Tournament for Gaelic Football, Camogie, and Hurling, this Saturday the 11th at Shoreline Stadium, 9 am to 7 pm.

While it’s far from the Celtic immigrant capital of the country, nevertheless Seattle has its share of Gaels. These Seattle Gaels have brought their sports, too, with them. Gaelic sport has been around the area since at least 1979 when the Seattle Gaels were formed. In the Northwest Division of USGAA to which Seattle belongs, the Seattle Gaels compete in hurling with Tacoma Rangers, Columbia Red Branch Hurling, Benton Brigade Hurling Club, Thomas Meagher Hurling Club out of Missoula, and Butte Wolfe Tones Hurling Club. In addition, the Seattle Gaels also play Gaelic Football with Portland Eireannach, and Tacoma Rangers.

Photo courtesy of James Ludden.

The Gaels won the national championships in both hurling and camogie in 2016. Yet few people know how great they are, or even what hurling and camogie are.

The sport called hurling for men and camogie for women (though these days hurling is often co-ed) is a straightforward stick-and-ball game in which the goal is, essentially, to score points by passing the ball into the opponent’s net. To a novice it probably looks like a strange combination of lacrosse, basketball, and field hockey. Gaelic football probably looks more familiar at first, with its similarity to rugby and Aussie Rules (AFL) football.

One of the difficult things about appreciating team sports, even the popular American spectator sports, is grasping the rules. It’s one of the things that leagues have felt standing in the way of Americans appreciating sports that are massively popular elsewhere. Many sports associations have responded to this by producing tournaments with modified rules. Cricket has produced 20/20 competitions, soccer has 3 v 3 and futsal competitions, rugby union and hurling have their Sevens competitions.

Photo courtesy of James Ludden.

The beauty of these modified rules is that they distill games down to their essentials. Matches are shorter, players are fewer, and scores are often higher (Americans love high scores).

This weekend’s USGAA tournament is another such modified tournament of Sevens, which reduces the number of players to seven-a-side (thus the name). For newbies, it’s an excellent opportunity to see a sport that is sometimes confusing made very clear. Because there are fewer players and less playing time, the matches focus on small tactical, player versus player battles rather than elaborate coaching strategy. And of course, if one is confused the confusion is over quickly.

It’s been awhile since the Seattle Gaels hosted a big tournament. This one is even more special because it’s in a covered stadium, following all COVID-19 protocols, and promises a solid day of Irish sport. Tacoma Rangers and Portland’s Columbia Red Branch hurling teams will be in attendance as well as a very special appearance from the Denver Gaels.

If you’ve any interest at all in Gaelic sport, this may help ignite your interest into a passion. The Gaels are great to watch, and the social part of the group is just as important as the sporting part. All events are open to all spectators, and everything promises to be safe and secure so that fans can concentrate on the games themselves.

I’m excited.

USGAA Northwest Regional Tournament for Gaelic Football, Camogie, and Hurling, Saturday 11th September 2021 at Shoreline Stadium, 9 am to 7 pm.

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