Gaelic football

From Academic Kids

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Irish Stamp portraying Gaelic Football action

Gaelic football (Irish: peil) is a form of football played mainly in Ireland. Teams of 15 players kick or punch a round ball towards goals at either end of a grass pitch.



Though it has existed for centuries, it was formally arranged into an organised playing code by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in the late nineteenth century. Although there are similarities with Australian Rules Football, this appears to be due to convergent evolution rather than conscious influence of one code on the other, although the precise connections between the games are unclear. International Rules matches are now organised between Irish and Australian representative sides, using a hybrid of the two codes.

The female version of the game has become increasingly popular since the 1970s.


The pitch is of grass and rectangular, 150 metres long and 80–90 metres wide. There are H-shaped goalposts at each end. The same pitch is used for hurling; the GAA, which organises both sports, decided this to facilitate dual usage.

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The ball made by Irish company O'Neill's is used for all official Gaelic football matches.

Teams consist of fifteen players plus up to fifteen substitutes, of which six may be used. Each player is numbered 1-15, starting with the goalkeeper.

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The player positions of a Gaelic football or hurling team.

The game is played with a round leather ball, similar to a soccer ball, but heavier. It may be kicked or punched, but not thrown. Players must not carry the ball more than four steps unless they kick it to themselves (called soloing) or bounce it; it must not be bounced twice in succession. Players may not pick the ball directly off the ground (During the National League campaign of 2004/5 an experimental rule allowed players to pick the ball from the ground directly from an upright position but not when on their knees or lower.).

If the ball goes between the goalposts over the crossbar, a point is scored; below the crossbar, a goal is scored. The goal is guarded by a goalkeeper. One goal is worth three points. Scores are recorded in the format {goal total} - {point total}. For example, the 1991 All-Ireland semi-final finished: Meath 0-15 Roscommon 1-11. Thus Meath won "fifteen points to one-eleven" (1-11 being worth 14 points).

The level of tackling allowed is more robust than in soccer, but less than rugby: shoulder-charging is permitted, grappling is not. The rule has attracted criticism as being too vague, producing inconsitent interpretations between different referees.

Leagues and Team structure

All Gaelic sports are amateur.

The basic unit of each game is organised at the club level, which is usually arranged on a parish basis, with various local clubs playing to win the County Championship at various levels:

  • Senior: the better adult clubs
  • Junior: weaker adult clubs, from small communities
  • Under-21
  • Minor: under-18
  • Underage: all ages from under-16 down to under-9

On a national level, the team is organised on the old Irish county system Template:Footnote, producing 34 teams representing the original 32 counties that cover the island of Ireland, plus teams representing the Irish diaspora in London and New York. There are also clubs in other parts of Britain, Asia, Australia, continental Europe and Canada (see ClubGAA link at bottom). Though Ireland was partitioned into two states in 1920, Gaelic sports (like most cultural organisations and all religions) continue to be organised on an all-island basis. A team of 15 players plus substitutes is formed from the best players playing at parish level. All counties play against each other in a knockout tournament known as the All Ireland Championship. These knockout games are organised on the four Irish provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht. In the past, the best team from each would play one of the others, at a stage known as the All-Ireland semi-finals, with the winning team from each game playing each other in the All-Ireland Final. A recent re-organisation now provides a 'back door' method of qualifying, with knocked out teams getting another chance to win back into the competition.

County teams also compete in the National Football League (Ireland), held every spring. In this, the 32 teams are split into 4 divisions, 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B. The top two teams in 2A and 2B go into the Division 2 semi-finals and are promoted to Division 1 for next season. The top two teams in 1A and 1B go into the Division 1 semi-finals to compete for the League title. The League is not as prestigious as the All-Ireland, but in recent years attendances have grown and interest, from the public and from players, have grown. This is due in part to the organisation of the league into the above format, the provision of the Division 2 final stages and the relatively new change of starting the league in February rather than November. Live matches are shown on the Irish-language TV station TG4, with highlights shown on RTE2.

The All Ireland Final

The final game of the inter-county series is the All Ireland Finals which takes place on the fourth Sunday of September in Croke Park. Before 1999, the final was held on the third Sunday of the month, but this custom was changed due to an overloaded schedule of matches.

Over a series of weeks, All Ireland Finals in men's football, women's football, hurling and camogie take place, each on a Sunday. Croke Park, the national stadium of the GAA, regularly attracts rowds of up to eighty thousand for the final phases of the competition.

Guests who attend include the President of Ireland, the Taoiseach (prime minister) and leading dignitaries.

Two levels of the game are played at each All Ireland, the senior team and the minor team (consisting of younger players, usually under the age of 18, who have played their own Minor All Ireland competition.)

The winning senior male football team wins the Sam Maguire cup. The most successful county in the history of Gaelic football is Kerry, with over 30 All Ireland wins, followed by Dublin, with over 20 wins.

Recent Winners of GAA All-Ireland Football Championships

  • 1980: Kerry
  • 1981: Kerry
  • 1982: Offaly
  • 1983: Dublin
  • 1984: Kerry
  • 1985: Kerry
  • 1986: Kerry
  • 1987: Meath
  • 1988: Meath
  • 1989: Cork
  • 1990: Cork
  • 1991: Down
  • 1992: Donegal
  • 1993: Derry
  • 1994: Down
  • 1995: Dublin
  • 1996: Meath
  • 1997: Kerry
  • 1998: Galway
  • 1999: Meath
  • 2000: Kerry
  • 2001: Galway
  • 2002: Armagh
  • 2003: Tyrone
  • 2004: Kerry

See Also

List of footballers (Gaelic football)

External Links

International Australian Football Council ( debunks the link between Australian Rules and Gaelic football.

Official GAA website ( List of All-Ireland football finals (

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