HUNDREDS of young GAA players from across the UK will descend on Greenford this summer for the first ever All-Britain Competitions.
The Irish Post can exclusively reveal that the games will take place over the weekend of July 20-22 at the north-west London venue, with approximately 100 teams from over 50 clubs throughout Britain set to participate. Football, hurling, girls football and camogie teams aged from U-8 to U-18 will be catered for, while six teams from mainland Europe will also make the trip.
The British Council of the GAA plan to host the ABCs annually. Between players, management, family, friends and supporters, the games are expected to attract in the region of 3,000 people to Greenford over the three days.
The ABCs are the brainchild of Brendie Brien, who is the incoming chairman of the British Council of the GAA, and former president John Gormley, who will serve as chairman of the ABC committee.
The idea came about having witnessed the success of the Continental Youth Championships in the USA, an annual weekend GAA tournament that has expanded significantly since its establishment in 2004, with over 100 teams competing in Boston last year.
“We’ve been taking a team to compete in America for the last seven or eight years and it was costing a lot of money just to bring one team out,” Brien explains. “We felt that we needed value for money in Britain and that setting up our own competition was the way forward.
“We started looking into the feasibility of it about two years ago to see would it be possible to run it, first of all, and secondly to discuss whether we could attract a crowd and make a success of it. But everyone has seemed to buy into it and there’s great enthusiasm there that this can be a good event.”
Staging games for over 100 teams on Greenford’s four pitches will be a logistical challenge for the ABC committee, who hope to bring on board around 50 volunteers to ensure the event runs smoothly.
Seven-a-side games will be played at U-8 level, nine-a-side for the U-10s, 11-a-side for U-12s, while U-14s, U-16s and U-18s will contest 13-a-side games. It’s hoped that reducing the numbers required to field a full team will allow clubs of all sizes to participate.
London senior footballer Mark Gottsche, who is the GAA’s Community Development Administrator for London, has been appointed secretary of the ABC committee and will carry a significant level of responsibility for the organisation of the games.
“There will be a massive amount of work involved but things like this have been successful in other places so there’s no reason we can’t do the same here,” says Gottche.
In his role as London’s CDA, Gottsche has been tasked with developing Gaelic games at underage level in the city’s schools and clubs. The Galway native says that preparing for the ABCs will provide young players with an incentive to improve and develop: “We want to try and have as many clubs as possible fielding teams because that’s what it’s all about for the kids – playing matches and enjoying it.
“The ABCs will allow kids to test their skills against other kids from all over Britain. It’ll also give clubs a good indication of where they stand. It’s a fantastic opportunity as well to show the important social role the GAA plays in Britain.”
Bernie Keane, the current president of the British Council of the GAA, has described the staging of the ABCs as “a very big challenge”, but he believes the weekend will be a success and that the GAA in Britain will benefit in the long-term.
Keane said: “The CDAs in each county have been working hard to bring us forward at underage level and this can be a showpiece for that.”
The cost of running the games is estimated to be in the region of £60,000. However, the funding that was previously used to take a team across the Atlantic for the CYCs – approximately £17,000 – will now be allocated to the budget of the ABCs.
Negotiations have already begun to bring sponsors on board and clubs will also be required to pay a fee of £50 per team entered. However, if a club wishes to enter more than four teams, they’ll only be charged for the first four so any subsequent entries will be free. There’s already been significant interest from clubs so the ABC committee are confident they’re not embarking on a loss-making venture.
GAA president Christy Cooney had offered the British Council the opportunity to host the prestigious Féile Peil na nóg U-14 competition in the UK this year but the concept of the ABCs was felt to be a more manageable undertaking.
Brendan Brien hasn’t ruled out the possibility of bringing the Féile to Britain in the future but he admits there are plenty of obstacles: “It’s something we’d look at again but we’d have to get British clubs playing at a stronger level than they are at the present time.
“You’d need to have a lot of British clubs strong enough to enter to justify the expense it would put on the teams in Ireland. For now we’ll look to progress with the ABCs for a couple of years and then we’ll look at perhaps inviting over some teams from Ireland to take part in it.”
When asked what the primary objective of the ABC committee is for this summer’s event, chairman John Gormley said: “I think it would be to give the young players the chance to go on and continue their development. We want to keep giving them that opportunity because the intention is for this to be an annual thing. We’ve almost doubled our number of underage clubs over the last four or five years so this is something we feel we should be doing.”
It’s still early days from an organisational perspective but the first All-Britain Competitions event this July has all the ingredients to be an enormous success. Gormley added: “We want to make this a cultural weekend with Irish music and Irish dancing so it should be very enjoyable for everyone attending.
“It’s only a week before the Olympics as well so there should be great excitement and we feel it’s something to really look forward to.”