'Very grassroots' sport takes off in Queenstown

A Gaelic football. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA
A Gaelic football. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA
Irish pride has received a boost on Queenstown's sports fields.

The town's first Gaelic sports club - the Queenstown Gaels - has proved a successful venture.

The club, in existence for less than a year, has attracted 60 members and won a national title.

It began when Lara Finnegan and Sarah McCaffrey arrived in May last year, having completed university in Ireland.

Both were players of gaelic football - Ireland's biggest sport - and McCaffrey was one of the game's most high-profile women.

They planned to keep playing abroad.

When they discovered there was no club, they started one.

"We arrived in Queenstown and we just kind of assumed there would be a club," Finnegan said.

"There's loads of clubs in like Sydney and Melbourne, there's five clubs in Auckland and there wasn't one in Queenstown.

"It was something we'd played our whole lives.

"There's a whole lot of Irish people in Queenstown and we sort of thought `why don't we start one up?"'

As interest rose, men's and women's gaelic football teams were formed, as well as a men's hurling team.

Alongside Irish ex-pats they attracted people from Chile, Spain, Scotland, England, Wales, Australia, the United States and New Zealand.

Both sports use goals similar to rugby posts.

Getting the ball over the posts is worth a point and through the goal at the bottom is worth three.

Gaelic football combines skills from sports such as rugby, basketball and football and Finnegan said that was something lots of people had picked up.

Hurling involves hitting a small ball with a stick, a game which required a lot of skill.

They train at the Wakatipu Rugby Club, although travel for the majority of their games.

At its first tournament, in Christchurch in October, the women's team won its division and McCaffrey was the player of the tournament.

It lost in extra time in the national championships final in Auckland, but the men won the title.

Finnegan said it had been a successful season and hoped the foundations were in place for the club to carry on.

Several others had become involved and were key to the set-up.

An amateur game - even at the highest level - it was a "very grassroots" sport and it brought a sense of pride.

"The whole ethos of the sport is it's a community game.

"It makes you very proud to be where you're from when you see it played.

"So I think when people come to Queenstown and they know it's there, they know the whole purpose of it is for its members and the enjoyment of the people that are here and nothing else."

The club is hosting a charity game tomorrow at the Wakatipu Rugby Club.

It will finish its season by hosting games against a Wellington team in the first week of June.

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