MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The one sport in town that numerous athletes play and not many know is the unique game of Gaelic football.
“It’s really focused on the community and getting kids of all different backgrounds in Northern Westchester together,” Treasurer and PR Director Vincent McMahon said. “All of the kids play and learn that you have to give respect to get respect.”
WestPut Setanta Football Club ran a four-day summer camp showcasing top shelf Irish and American coaches from 3-7 p.m. at the Airport Field last week. The kids learned details about Gaelic football and also practiced the Irish sport of hurling.
The athletes were split up by age group when camp was in session. They worked on skills with their assigned coaches for the first few hours of the afternoon. Scrimmages made up most of the second half of the day.
Fifty-two club members will fly out to Chicago to participate in the Continental Youth Championships from July 28-31. Roughly 160 clubs will be represented from all over the United States and Canada, as the event is the largest scale Gaelic football competition outside of Ireland.
There will be a co-educational team and a girls team for the U8, U10 and U12 age groups playing in the tournament from WestPut Setanta. The U8 girls squad won the whole tournament last summer in San Francisco.
The club is also set to ride down to Philadelphia for another large-scale tournament on Saturday, July 23.
Playing Gaelic football is simpler than it sounds. It is like a blend of basketball, American football, soccer and volleyball.
The objective is to either kick or hit the soccer-like ball with your fist into the soccer net. This earns your team three points. There are field goal posts above the net. If someone kicks or fists the ball through them, their team earns one point.
Though the key is that you may only take four steps after receiving the ball. After that, you have the option to pass, perform a solo, (kick the ball back up to yourself) or bounce it while risking defenders stealing the ball. Defenders can swipe at the ball with one hand, and can only tackle lightly with their hands.
“The great thing about Gaelic football is that you can use your hands to catch the ball,” Hurling Development Officer for the Gaelic Athletic Association Emmitt Conlon said. “You can use your feet to kick the ball. It’s an athletic sport and brings in basketball, soccer and American football. It’s such an enjoyable sport. It’s fast and quick. That’s why Gaelic football is growing.”
The club boasts four girls teams and four boys teams from U6-U14. They compete against 10 different clubs from the Bronx, Rockland County and Queens during the spring and fall seasons.
“It’s a lovely way for the kids to break outside of their schools,” Registrar Mary Kelleher said. “They develop friends from all over Putnam and Northern Westchester County. Great friendships build up. They seem to have such great fun. Simply pure enjoyment is what you’re seeing.”
Gaelic football is sharply growing in popularity throughout the entire nation. It is a different type of sport that is more about community and enjoyment than anything else.
“Gaelic football is a very community oriented sport where families come together to the game. Families feel more welcome and that is the big thing," Conlon said.
The club was formerly named the WestPut Gaels, based in Mahopac. The club combined with Katonah in 2010 to form the larger Westchester Putnam Setanta.
The volunteer organization is named after a mythical Irish hero, Setanta, or the Hound of Ulster. This is the first season that girls will play in their own games aside from the co-educational division also.
“It’s very empowering for the girls — no question,” Kelleher said. “Humbling for the boys. It works both ways. The fact that you can go with your entire family to the same spot for the games is nice.”
This was the second annual summer camp after the first one assisted over 60 children. The children earned kits from Ireland after their last day of cul-camp. Cul means gold in Gaelic. Each child received a jersey and a sweater for participating after a grand pizza party capped off the week.
Practices for this season will be held at the Airport Field on Monday nights and at the Harvey School in Katonah on Friday nights. Registration sentence. The club’s website is westputsetanta.com.
“To see 60 young children playing shows you how progressive the club is,” Conlon said. “This is a fantastically run club. I can see them improving and would love to see more numbers in the future.”