It’s a world away from Croke Park on the third Sunday in September but this weekend’s inaugural GAA World Games in Abu Dhabi has the potential to become one of the major events on the Association’s calendar according to the Derry man at the heart of the project.
Former Sean Dolan’s and Burt senior manager Hugh Hegarty, who was a player with Moville, is Chief Liaison Officer with host club Abu Dhabi Na Fianna and the Oak Leaf influence doesn’t end there. Captaining the Middle East’s ladies team at the event will be Steelstown’s Una Harkin and she will be lining out alongside former county player, Doire Colmcille’s Shauna McCallion and Clarence McWilliams.
“It’s great to have the city represented through Una and alongside Shauna McCallion and Clarence, there will be a strong Derry connection,” said Hegarty.
“All of them have been to the forefront of the growth of Ladies Football in the UAE and are relishing the chance to pit their wits against teams from the four corners of the earth.”
Hegarty, who had previously taught at Immaculate Conception College, has been in Abu Dhabi for six years and believes the potential of the new tournament is huge.
“There are large numbers of Irish people here and the club provides a fantastic base for everyone. The game is really going from strength to strength. At the minute we have nine womens’ teams and six mens’ teams and compete in the Middle East League.
“Once a month for five months the various teams travel to a particular competing country and play off a round of the league over one weekend with the Championship normally set for March. Due to the large distances involved it is the only practical way of organising the league.
“The popularity of the league brought forward the idea for the World Games and since it got the green light last September, things have moved very quickly.
“Hopefully a few years from now, this could grow into one of the GAA’s major events. It has so much potential. At some time in the future, it would be nice to think the All Ireland club champions, be it the Junior, Intermediate or Senior champions, could represent Ireland in the tournament.
“This year there are 28 teams from all over the world competing which is a major achievement in itself. There has been so much hard work put in by so many individuals and it’s not solely about sport. It provides a great cultural and social hub for people.”
The Etihad Airways event began on Thursday with the ’World Business Forum’ which is aimed at generating economic links between Ireland and the other participating regions which include Argentina, Asia, Australia, Europe, New York, North America, Canada, South Africa and other areas of the Middle East.
Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael Aogán Ó Fearghail will attend and open the games in one of his first official engagements since assuming the GAA’s Presidency.
“This is new territory for our games and this most special event comes on the back of an unprecedented explosion in the growth of our international units and network,” said Mr. Ó Fearghail.
“It serves as a timely reminder that our games and activities have never been more popular outside Ireland and great credit is due to Middle East GAA for their role in organising this event and bringing what was an ambitious plan to fruition. I sincerely hope it is the start of something we will enjoy for many years to come.”
It has so much potential. At some time in the future, it would be nice to think the All Ireland club champions, be it the Junior, Intermediate or Senior champions, could represent Ireland in the tournament.Hugh Hegarty
Of the competing teams, 20 (10 men and 10 women) will play in the GAA World Cup, a competition dominated by Irish based players within the various countries.
Eight teams (four mens and four womens) will play in the International World Cup which is made up largely of local players from places like Argentina, Galicia, Middle East and South Africa who have taken up the sport. His Excellency Sheikh Nayan, the former Sports Minister and a member of the Royal Family, will throw in the ball for the first game.
The 9-a-side game permits three rolling subs with a ‘sin-bin’ replacing the black card due to restrictions on squad sizes and Hegarty claims many players ‘back home’ might be surprised at the high standards.
“Standard wise, out here (Abu Dhabi) is a lot better than perhaps people back in Ireland realise,” he explains, “We play a 9-a-side game, comparable to the ‘Sevens’ back home but the standard would be that of a decent senior club side.
“Donegal’s Ryan Bradley, for example, plays for Qatar and every club would have around four or five players of that standard which shows the level of teams at it.
“For now though, everyone is concentrating on the tournament and ensuring the players and visitors have an experience that will help our games continue to grow to a global audience.”