Souris native Brandon O’Keefe of the P.E.I. Celts kicks the ball into the net versus the Ottawa Gaels at last month’s Eastern Canadian gaelic football championship in Quebec City, Que. P.E.I. lost the game, but went 3-1 in its first Eastern Canadian tournament appearance.
Gaelic football on the Island is on a roll after the fledgling P.E.I. Celts earned hosting duties for the 2018 Eastern Canadian championship.
Not bad considering the Celts, the team spearheading the P.E.I. Gaelic Athletic Association, aren’t 12 months old and nearly reached the final of last month’s Eastern Canadians in Quebec City, Que.
And Shane O’Neill, chairman of the Celts, couldn’t be happier about the responsibility.
“I’m delighted. It’s great, an absolutely great way to promote the sport,” said O’Neill. “We’re bringing tourism to the Island, getting the Island mentioned nationally and giving people an idea of what the games are like at that level.”
The PEIGAA won the bid over Montreal. It had considered vying for the 2017 edition, but the Ottawa club, which hosts next summer, had already started the process and P.E.I. bowed out.
Gaelic football is sort of a splice between soccer, rugby and basketball played with a ball slightly smaller but heavier than a soccer ball. The goal is for each 15-man team to score via kick or punch three points for putting the ball in the net and one point for firing the ball over the net's crossbar.
The event goes Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, at the Parkman complex in Charlottetown and includes men’s and women’s teams in gaelic football from Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. and, O’Neill hopes, a co-ed hurling team and perhaps a youth (12 to 16-years-old) gaelic football competition.
That youth team is one O’Neill’s eyeing because it would mean the association’s attempts to grow the sport will have worked.
O’Neill envisions an all-star provincial squad made up of two or three players from each Island association, assembled like a provincial hockey team and testing the Island’s mettle versus teams from across the region.
“If we grow the sport tremendously, we may be inviting teams from other provinces,” he said. “(It would be) nice to have a competition-based tournament.”
Hurling, with roots nearly 3,000-years-old, is a funky mishmash of baseball, hockey, field hockey and lacrosse. Like gaelic football, players on two teams of 15 try to shoot a baseball-sized ball with a stick into a net, worth three points, or over the crossbar, worth one point.
O’Neill comes by his love of the gaelic football and hurling honestly. Born in Ireland, the Souris resident started in hurling in his native County Clare at six-years-old.
Both sports are as ingrained in Irish society as hockey is in Canadian culture. Most Irish towns and villages field a team or teams in both games, although some counties are known to excel in one or the other. Clare is a hurling hotbed.
So achieving that kind of presence in the Island sports scene is also something O’Neill savours and the organization has set up camps to instruct potential new players in the sports.
The grass-fielded Parkman complex, which O’Neill said the PEIGAA is grateful for the City of Charlottetown allowing it to use, works well because unlike turf fields, boundary lines can be changed for gaelic football and hurling. And real grass is much more forgiving than its plastic equivalent.
“It’s an ideal location. We have to get equipment in and out… and it’s easier there to do it,” said O’Neill. “Astroturf is not ideal. In hurling, the ball never (slows down) unlike grass.”
The games for the championship will be free, although planned concerts will cost money as those will be ticket-based.
On the web at www.peiceltsgaa.com.