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Gaelic football (Irish: Peil, Peil Ghaelach, or Caid), commonly referred to as "Football", "Gaelic", or "Gah", is a form of football played mainly in Irelandmarker. It is, together with hurling, one of the two most popular spectator sports in Ireland.

Statistics show the game drawing significantly more spectators than any other sport in Ireland; 2005 ESRImarker figures indicate that it draws 34% of total attendances at sports events in Ireland, with the closest rival, hurling drawing 23%.

Football is one of four Gaelic games run by the Gaelic Athletic Association, the largest sporting organisation in Ireland which has far more club members than any other sport. It has strict rules on player amateurism and the pinnacle of the sport is the inter-county All-Ireland Football Final. The game is believed to have descended from ancient Irish football known as caid which dates back to medieval times, although the modern rules were not set down until 1886.

Gaelic football is also played in countries outside of Ireland, often although not solely played by members of the Irish diaspora. It is increasing in popularity internationally. Teams from both London and New York compete in the annual All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, the highest level of the game. A hybrid sport, international rules football facilitates international representative matches including the showpiece International Rules Series between Australia and Ireland.

Football is played by teams of 15 on a rectangular grass pitch with H-shaped goals at each end. The primary object is to score by kicking or striking the ball with the hand and getting it through the goals. The team with the highest score at the end of the match wins. Players advance the ball up the field with a combination of carrying, soloing (dropping and then toe-kicking the ball upward into the hands), kicking, and hand-passing to their team-mates.


Playing field

A Gaelic football pitch is similar in some respects to a rugbypitch but considerably larger. The grass pitch is rectangular, stretching 130–145 meters long and 80–90 meters wide. There are H-shaped goalposts at each end, formed by two posts, which are usually 6 m high, set 6.4 m apart, and connected 2.44 m above the ground by a crossbar. A net extending in back of the goal is attached to the crossbar and lower goal posts. The same pitch is used for hurling; the GAA, which organises both sports, decided this to facilitate dual usage. Lines are marked at distances of 13 m, 20m and 45 m from each end-line. Shorter pitches and smaller goals are used under-12s.


The majority of adult football and all minor and under 21 matches last for 60 minutes, divided into two halves of 30 minutes, with the exception of senior inter-county games which last for 70 minutes (two halves of 35 minutes). Draws are decided by replays or by playing 20 minutes of extra time (two halves of 10 minutes). The under 12s have a half of 20 minutes or 25 minutes in some cases. Half time lasts for about 15 minutes.


Teams consist of fifteen players (a goalkeeper, two corner backs, a full back, two wing backs,a centre back, two mid fielders, two wing forwards, a centre forward, two corner forwards and a full forward) plus up to fifteen substitutes, of which five may be used. Each player is numbered 1–15, starting with the goalkeeper, who must wear a jersey colour different from that of his/her teammates.



The game is played with a round leather football, similar to a soccerball, but heavier, and with horizontal stitching rather than the hexagonand pentagonpanels often used on soccer balls, and similar in appearance to a standard volleyball. It may be kicked or hand passed. A hand pass is not a punch but rather a strike of the ball with the side of the closed fist, using the knuckle of the thumb.

The following are considered technical fouls ("fouling the ball"):

  • Picking the ball directly off the ground (It must be scooped up into the hands by the foot). However, in ladies' Gaelic football, the ball may be picked up directly.
  • Throwing the ball (It may be "hand-passed" by striking with the fist or open hand)
  • Going four steps without releasing, bouncing or soloing the ball. (Soloing involves kicking the ball into one's own hands)
  • Bouncing the ball twice in a row (It may be soloed continuously)
  • Hand passing the ball over an opponent's head, then running around him to catch it
  • Hand passing a goal (the ball may be punched into the goal from up in the air, however)
  • Square ball, an often controversial rule: If, at the moment the ball enters the small rectangle, there is already an attacking player inside the small rectangle, then a free out is awarded.
  • Changing hands: Throwing the ball from your right-hand to left or vice-versa.


If the ball goes over the crossbar, a pointis scored and a white flag is raised by an umpire. A Point can be scored by either kicking the ball over the crossbar, or by fisting it over in which case the hand must be closed whilst striking the ball. If the ball goes below the crossbar, a goal, worth three points, is scored, and a green flag is raised by an umpire. A goal can only be scored by kicking the ball into the net, you cannot fist pass the ball into the net. However, a player can strike the ball into the net with a closed fist if the ball was played to him by another player or came in contact with the post/crossbar/ground prior to connection. The goal is guarded by a goalkeeper. Scores are recorded in the format {goal total}-{point total}.


The level of tackling allowed is more robust than in association football , but less than rugby.

Shoulder to shoulder contact and slapping the ball out of an opponent's hand is permitted, but the following are all fouls:
  • Using both hands to tackle
  • Pushing an opponent
  • Striking an opponent
  • Pulling an opponent's jersey
  • Blocking a shot with the foot
  • Sliding tackles
  • Tripping
  • Touching the goalkeeper when he is inside the small rectangle
  • Wrestling the ball from an opponent's hands

Restarting play

  • A match begins with the referee throwing the ball up between the four mid fielders.
  • After an attacker has put the ball wide of the goals, the goalkeeper may take a kick out from the ground at the edge of the small square. All players must be beyond the 20 m line.
  • After an attacker has scored, the goalkeeper may take a kick out from the ground from the 21 m line. All players must be beyond the 21 m line and outside the semicircle.
  • After a defender has put the ball wide of the goals, an attacker may take a "45" from the ground on the 45 m line level with where the ball went wide.
  • After a player has put the ball over the sideline, the other team may take a sideline kick at the point where the ball left the pitch. It may be kicked from the ground or the hands.
  • After a player has committed a foul, the other team may take a free kick at the point where the foul was committed. It may be kicked from the ground or the hands.
  • If a player has been fouled while passing the ball, the free kick may be taken from the point where the ball landed.
  • After a defender has committed a foul inside the large rectangle, the other team may take a penalty kick from the ground from the center of the 13 m line. Only the goalkeeper may guard the goals.
  • If many players are struggling for the ball and it is not clear who was fouled first, the referee may choose to throw the ball up between two opposing players.


A football match is overseen by eight officials:

  • The referee
  • Two linesmen
  • Sideline official/Standby linesman (inter-county games only)
  • Four umpires (two at each end)

The referee is responsible for starting and stopping play, recording the score, awarding frees and booking and sending off players.

Linesmen are responsible for indicating the direction of line balls to the referee.

The fourth official is responsible for overseeing substitutions, and also indicating the amount of stoppage time (signaled to him by the referee) and the players substituted using an electronic board.

The umpires are responsible for judging the scoring. They indicate to the referee whether a shot was: wide (spread both arms), a 45 m kick (raise one arm), a point (wave white flag), square ball (cross arms) or a goal (wave green flag). A disallowed score is indicated by crossing the green and white flags.

Contrary to popular belief within the association, all officials are not obliged to indicate "any misdemeanours" to the referee, but are in fact only permitted to inform the referee of violent conduct they have witnessed which has occurred without the referees knowledge. A linesman/umpire is not permitted to inform the referee of technical fouls such as a "double bounce" or an illegal pick up of the ball. Such decisions can only be made at the discretion of the referee.


Gaelic football is one of the world's oldest known sports still played today. It is one of the most played sports in Ireland and is also played in other countries. One of the first records of football in Irelandmarker comes from 1308, when John McCrocan, a spectator at a football game at Newcastle, County Dublinmarker was charged with accidentally stabbing a player named William Bernard.

The Statute of Galwaymarker of 1527 allowed the playing of "foot balle" and archery but banned "'hokie' — the hurling of a little ball with sticks or staves" as well as other sports.

By the 17th century, the situation had changed considerably. The games had grown in popularity and werewidely played. This was due to the patronage of the gentry. Now instead of opposing the games it was the gentry and the ruling class who were serving as patrons of the games. Games were organized betweenlandlords with each team comprising 20 or more tenants. Wagers were commonplace with purses of up to 100 guineas(Prior, 1997).

The earliest record of a recognized precursor to the modern game date from a match in County Meath in 1670, in which catching and kicking the ball was permitted.

However even "foot-ball" was banned by the severe Sunday Observance Actof 1695, which imposed a fine of one shilling(a substantial amount at the time) for those caught playing sports. It proved difficult, if not impossible, for the authorities to enforce the Act and the earliest recorded inter-county match in Ireland was one between Louthmarker and Meathmarker, at Slanemarker, in 1712.

A six-a-side version was played in Dublin in the early 18th century, and 100 years later there were accounts of games played between County sides (Prior, 1997).

By the early 19th century, various football games, referred to collectively as caid, were popular in Kerrymarker, especially the Dingle Peninsulamarker.Father W. Ferris described two forms of caid: the "field game" in which the object was to put the ball through arch-like goals, formed from the boughs of two trees, and; the epic "cross-country game" which lasted the whole of a Sunday (after mass) and was won by taking the ball across a parishboundary. "Wrestling", "holding" opposing players, and carrying the ball were all allowed.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Rugbyand Association footballstarted to become popular in Ireland. Trinity College, Dublinmarker was an early stronghold of Rugby, and the rules of the Englishmarker Football Association were codified in 1863 and distributed widely.By this time, according to Gaelic football historian Jack Mahon, even in the Irish countryside, caidhad begun to give way to a "rough-and-tumble game" which even allowed tripping.

Limerick was the stronghold of the native game around this time, and the Commercials Club, founded by employees of Cannock’s Drappery Store, was one of the first to impose a set of rules which was adapted by other clubs in the city. Of all the Irish pastimes the GAA set out to preserve and promote, it is fair to say that Gaelic football was in the worst shape at the time of the association’s foundation (GAA Museum, 2001).

Irish forms of football were not formally arranged into an organised playing code by the Gaelic Athletic Association(GAA) until 1887. The GAA sought to promote traditional Irish sports, such as hurlingand to reject "foreign" (particularly English) imports. The first Gaelic football rules, showing the influence of hurling and a desire to differentiate from association football— for example in their lack of an offside rule— were drawn up by Maurice Davinand published in the United Irelandmagazine on February 7, 1887. The rules of the aforementioned Commercials Club became the basis for these official (Gaelic Football) rules who, unsurprisingly, won the inaugural All-Ireland Senior Football Final (representing County Limerick)

On Bloody Sunday in 1920, during the Anglo-Irish War, a football match at Croke Parkmarker was attacked by British forces.14 people were killed and 65 were injured.

Ladies' Gaelic footballhas become increasingly popular with women since the 1970s .

The relationship between Gaelic football and Australian rules footballand the question of whether they have shared origins is a matter of historical controversy. Games are held between an Irish representative team and an Australian team, under compromise rules known as International rules football.

The current Director General of the GAA is Paraic Duffyof Monaghan.

Team of the Millennium

This was a team chosen in 1999 by a panel of GAA past presidents and journalists. The goal was to single out the best ever 15 players who had played the game in their respective positions, since the foundation of the GAA in 1884 up to the Millenniumyear, 2000. Naturally many of the selections were hotly debated by fans around the country.

Leagues and team structure

All Gaelic sports are amateur; easing the strictness with which this is interpreted is advocated by the Gaelic Players Association.
The basic unit of each game is organised at the club level, which is usually arranged on a parishbasis, with various local clubs playing to win the County Championshipat various levels:


On a national level, the team is organised on the old Irish county system, producing 34 teams representing the original 32 counties that cover the island of Ireland, plus teams representing the Irish diasporain Londonand New York. Splitting Dublininto North and South due to its enormous population has been considered, but is unlikely to happen any time soon. There are also clubs in other parts of the USA, Britain, Asia, Australasia, continental Europeand Canada.

Though Ireland was partitioned between two states in 1920, Gaelic sports (like most cultural organisations and all religions) continue to be organized on an All-Ireland basis.

A team of 15players plus substitutes is formed from the best players playing at club level.

Nearly all counties play against each other in a knock-out tournament known as the All Ireland Championship.

These modified knock-out games are organised on the four Irish provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinsterand Connacht.

In the past, the best team from each would play one of the others, at a stage known as the All-Ireland semi-finals, with the winning team from each game playing each other in the All-Ireland Final.

A recent re-organisation now provides a 'back door' method of qualifying, with knocked out teams getting another chance to win back into the competition. This means that one team may defeat another team in an early stage of the championship, yet be defeated and knocked out of the tournament by the same team at a later stage.

County teams also compete in the National Football League, held every spring. The League is nowhere near as prestigious as the All-Ireland, but in recent years attendances have grown and interest, from the public and from players, has grown. This is due in part to the organisation of the league into the above format, the provision of the Division 2 final stages and the relatively new change of starting the league in February rather than November. Live matches are shown on the Irish-language TV station TG4, with highlights shown on RTÉ2.

All-Ireland Final

The final game of the inter-county series is the All-Ireland Final which takes place on the third Sunday of September at Croke Parkmarker.However, the 2005 All-Ireland final was played on the fourth sunday of the month, due to overlapping TV coverage of the Ryder Cup tournament by RTÉmarker.

Over the four Sundays of September, All-Ireland Finals in men's football, women's football, hurling and camogie take place in Croke Parkmarker, the national stadium of the GAA, with the men's decider regularly attracting crowds of over 80,000.Guests who attend include the President of Ireland, the Taoiseachand leading dignitaries.

Two levels of the game are played at each All-Ireland, the Seniorteam and the Minorteam (consisting of younger players, under the age of 18, who have played their own Minor All-Irelandcompetition).

The winning senior county football team receives the Sam Maguire cup. The most successful county in the history of football is Kerry, with 36 All-Ireland wins, followed by Dublin, with 22 wins.

See also


  • Jack Mahon, 2001, A History of Gaelic Football Dublin: Gill & Macmillan. (ISBN 0-7171-3279-X)


  1. Study in Ireland, Facts, Information & Resources for Studying Abroad in Ireland -
  2. People's Daily Online - Gaelic football comes to Shanghai
  3. The History of Gaelic Football and the Gaelic Athletic Association
  4. 8 pupil SEN*
  5. In the nineteenth century, local government units called counties were created. The counties as originally created remain the basic unit of the GAA even though in reality the counties have been rearranged in the twentieth century. Northern Ireland's original six counties are now divided into 26 county units, while the Republic of Ireland's 26 counties have since been redrawn, leading to a modern local governmental unit total of 33. The GAA sticks to the original 32 counties , and today includes representative teams from London , New York.

External links

Diagram of a Gaelic football pitch
A child participates in a game of gaelic football
Dan O'Keeffe

Right Corner Back
Full Back
Left Corner Back
Enda Colleran

Joe Keohane

Seán Flanagan

Right Half Back
Centre Back
Left Half Back
Sean Murphy

J. J. O'Reilly

Martin O'Connell

Mick O'Connell

Tommy Murphy

Right Half Forward
Centre Forward
Left Half Forward
Pat Spillane

Seán Purcell

Seán O'Neill

Right Corner Forward
Full Forward
Left Corner Forward
Kevin Heffernan

Tommy Langan

Mikey Sheehy

the better adult clubs
clubs between Senior and Junior levels
weaker adult clubs, from small communities
under 21
under 18
all ages from under-17 down to under-8

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