Gaelic Football Grows in Popularity in Northern Westchester
The mashup of soccer and football offers an alternative sport to local kids.0 of 0
Often described as a mashup of soccer, rugby and basketball, Gaelic football has been played for 2,000 years in Ireland, 100 years in America, 40 years in Putnam County—and for the last three years by a growing number of kids in Katonah and throughout Westchester.
Most kids catch on to the Gaelic rules quickly because they get to do follow their instincts when they see the ball—pick it up, and pass, kick or bounce it, according to Gerald Padian, a co-founder of the Katonah Gaelic Football Club.
“When they start out, no one’s seen the game, much less played it, but it’s intuitive to kids,” he said after a recent practice for Setanta, the club’s team—named for a mythological Irish warrior. “They get to do what comes naturally.”
The goal of the game is to score by kicking or hand-striking the ball through the goal. Unlike American soccer, players can handle the ball, which is moved up through the field by kicking, hand-passing in a fashion similar to a volleyball strike, running—which must be done with a bounce of the ball every three steps—or “soloing” the ball, when players drop it to their instep and kick it back up to their hands.
“It’s physically taxing but the players seem to be into it for the sport itself,” said Padian. “It’s less competitive than some of the other sports in the area.”
Martin Viall, a South Salem resident, said his son Kye, a first-grader at Lewisboro Elementary School, played because he hadn’t really “connected” to soccer, and their family was attracted to the Irish heritage of the game. “We’re half-Irish, so it’s been great to have another sports option that also allows Kye to connect to his roots,” said Viall.
The cultural connection was not lost on the kids playing.
“I love kicking the ball and I love that it’s Irish, because I’m Irish,” said Fionn Reid, a six-year-old from Briarcliff Manor.
But the game is open to children of all backgrounds, Padian said, and the local group has a diverse roster. “This year, the Irish-Americans may even be the minority on the team,” he said, though at Saturday’s practice, plenty of typically Irish names—Aidan, Ronan, Jack and Connor, to name a few—were overheard.
Setanta joined this year with the veteran West-Putnam team to enable that region to field a group to participate in the New York Minor Board, the regional governing association of the Gaelic Athletic Association of Ireland.
About 100 children—up from 20 that started the team three years ago— ages 5 to 14 were playing in Katonah on Saturday, from towns as close as Yorktown, South Salem and Briarcliff Manor, and as far as Peekskill, Fairfield and Greenwich, CT. Home games are played at the Harvey School or Katonah Elementary School. Away games are within a one-hour drive to Katonah.
Padian’s 8-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter played the game at their second home in Ireland. Their love of the game led Padian to co-found the team with locals John Myers, Mark Flanagan, Mike Drude and John Albert. Padian’s leadership and enthusiasm are a draw for some families to participate, said more than one parent at Saturday’s practice.
“When I first heard about it from Gerry, I thought—did we need another activity to do, let alone one we didn’t know the rules for?” said Rich McDermott, a Katonah resident and friend of Padian’s. “But he’s doing a phenomenal job, and now it’s absolutely my daughter’s favorite activity, and the team has a real cult following around here.”
Cortlandt resident Padraig Carroll played as a boy in Woodlawn in the Bronx—where Gaelic football is still huge, he said. Now his former teammates are coaching his seven-year-old son Sean on Setanta.
“It’s just good, clean fun,” he said. “It gets kids outside in the fresh air and away from the television. It’s nice that it has Irish roots, but here, you can just show up and play.”Great, we’ll send you an email as soon as a follow-up is published!