I have often been asked why I never played GAA growing up. The answer was simple: I never went to schools that embraced it. Every summer I became a fan, but once the All Ireland Finals were over, that was me done again for eight months.
But that recently changed.
When I decided to emigrate to Spain for a more stable work life teaching English, I wondered how long would it take me to settle. Knowing I’d have a solid job in a small town outside Seville before I left in September had me in a positive frame of mind, but I knew I would need to balance work with a social life.
I was nervous in the weeks before departing. Emigrating with a partner or in a group to an English-speaking country is one thing. Emigrating alone to a place where you don’t understand the language is another.
I had seen friends before me leave for other countries and manage to settle abroad. Many of them joined sports clubs to have something to do on the side.
“Why not see if they have a GAA club?” a former colleague asked me before I left. The thought never crossed my mind. One search for “GAA in Seville” yielded three words: Éire Óg Seville.
My journey to Éire Óg began as soon as I arrived, just in time for the All Ireland Finals – the height of the club’s social season. I decided to make the first move, and contact them via Facebook. A few messages later, I had arranged to meet up with them on the Sunday of the fooball final. It was time I introduced myself.
Handicapped by data roaming restrictions, I armed myself with a screen grab of a route to walk from the train station to the Merchant, a popular Irish pub and meeting point for Éire Óg.
“I’ve never kicked a Gaelic football in my life,” I said when I arrived, but I was assured this wouldn’t be a problem, and I was invited along to a training session to have a go for myself.
Since then, I’ve been attending every Sunday morning. It may be only one day a week, but it gives me a social outlet and something to look forward to every weekend, as well as a fix from the auld sod that many of us Irish emigrants need from time to time.
There is a mix of competitiveness and fun during training and tournaments against other GAA clubs in Spain, which is complimented by a host of social activities off the pitch. The club’s membership includes Irish, English, Welsh, Americans and local Sevillians.
Within a few short months, I feel remarkably settled. Before leaving, I knew I had to give myself until Christmas at the very least to decide whether Spain was for me. Thanks in part to Éire Óg, I don’t have any immediate plans to move home.