Gaelic Football - Ronnie Macdonald - cc

Gaelic Football

Gaelic Football - Ronnie Macdonald - cc

Not far ahead of the Hurling, Gaelic football is the most popular sport in Ireland. Each major team plays at national level representing its county and not its town. The players are amateurs. Gaelic football is played by both men and women in no less than 2800 clubs in Ireland.

History of Gaelic Football

A Sport Dating from the 18th Century

The first official match of Gaelic Football dates back to 1712, when it pitted the counties of Louth and Meath in the town of Slane (home match for Meath County).

The first Gaelic Football Rules were written by Maurice Davin (founder of the GAA in 1884) and were published in the United Ireland magazine on February 7, 1887.

It has since become a fixture in Irish sport, and most counties in Ireland have their own clubs and regional teams.

Gaelic Football Rules


Gaelic Football players play around a spherical ball slightly smaller than a football. The official ball is made by the Irish brand “O’Neill’s”, about 25 cm in diameter and 68 to 73 in circumference. When dry (yes, it rains a lot in Ireland!) it weighs between 370 and 425 grams.

Principle of the Game

A Gaelic football match consists of 2 half 30-minute halves for league matches or 2 half 35-minute halves for league matches. Gaelic football is not as violent as Hurling, Rugby or Football (Soccer) with tackles and tackles being prohibited. Shoulder-to-shoulder contact is allowed

A player is not allowed to take more than 4 consecutive steps with the ball in his hands. If he has a clear field and wants to progress towards the opponent’s goals, he can do :

  • a “bounce” i.e. bouncing the ball on the ground (dribbling similar to the Hand) knowing that he is not allowed to do two in a row.
  • a “toe-tap” (toe meaning toe), which consists of bouncing the ball off his foot.

This allows the team to take 4 more steps and so on. Although the player is allowed to carry the ball in his hands, he cannot pick it up from the ground with his hands: only with any part of his body except his hands. In order to pick up the ball on the ground, the player must “pick up” the ball by kicking it off the ground. If a player wants to get rid of the ball, he can propel the ball but not throw it, for this he has :

  • “kick”: kicking
  • “hand pass” hits the ball through the fist or the palm of the hand.

To make a pass, the player must keep the ball in contact with both hands. It is therefore obvious that sending the ball back with a cuff (as in volleyball) is prohibited and punishable. It is also forbidden :

  • to push the goalkeeper in his (rectangular) area. It is simply possible to hinder him when he wants to make a pass.
  • to rip the ball out of a player’s hands (basketball in-between type). To deprive a player of the ball, you have to hit the ball.

The Field

The pitch used to play Gaelic Football is the same as the Hurling pitch, 137 metres long and 82 metres wide. The posts are the same as in Hurling and the score is counted in the same way: 1 point if the ball goes over the crossbar and between the 2 posts; 3 points (a goal) if the ball goes under the crossbar in the net.

The team

Another similarity with the Hurling: the Gaelic football team is made up of 15 players including a goalkeeper, 6 defenders, 2 midfielders and 6 forwards. 3 substitutions are allowed during the game.

  • The goalkeeper wears the number 1
  • Defenders numbers 2 to 7
  • The midfielders are numbered 8 to 9
  • The strikers numbers 10 to 15
  • The goalkeeper must wear a jersey different from that of the other players of his team


The rules are enforced with the help of :

  • a field referee who makes the final decisions in a case of dispute between the two teams after first hearing the opinion of the other 6 officials.
  • 2 line judges
  • 4 “umpire” assessors who indicate goals and points by raising a green flag to the left of the cages for a goal and a white flag to the right for a point.


As said before, there are mainly two competitions, just like the Hurling:

  • The All-Ireland Senior Football Championship: (the most prestigious competition) whose final (All Ireland Final) takes place at Croke Park on the 3rd Sunday of September and ends when the winning team lifts the Sam Maguire Cup in front of nearly 80,000 spectators.
  • The league (Allianz NFL) which takes place during the colder season.

Since the beginning of the championship in 1887, the team that has won the most trophies is the Kerry team. Since its first win in 1903, it has won a total of 33 times. A championship final spectator record was set in 1961, when 90,556 spectators attended the final between Down County and Offaly County at Croke Park.

So much more to discover...

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