Myanmar opens heart to GAA

MUCKY DAY IN MYANMAR: The Myanmar Celts and Singapore Gaelic Lions get together for a photocall after their historic match in Yangon.
Monday, August 04, 2014

By Michael Moynihan

Gaelic games flower in Asian country once reluctant to embrace the outside world.

With thousands of people leaving the country in the last few years GAA clubs abroad have been booming, and not just in the traditional enclaves like Kilburn or Dorchester.

One of the most recent additions to the GAA family has been Myanmar Celts in what used to be called Burma, now Myanmar, a country only now opening up to foreign influences.

As Tullamore native Elaine Kelly of the Celts says, that has its advantages: local television came down to film the club’s first game (see

Then there are the local challenges.

“Weather wise you can see in the clip it is lashing rain, it is rainy season here at the moment so it’s very wet and humid.”

The Singapore Gaelic Lions, one of the largest and highest ranked Gaelic clubs in the Asia Pacific region, recently beat Myanmar in a challenge match.

“It was fantastic to have the Singapore Gaelic Lions come play us in [former capital] Yangon,” said Kelly, “As a young club we are keen to get the word out there to support the growth and development of the club. With Myanmar now opened up there has been a big growth in the number of ex-pats arriving to Yangon and Gaelic has been a great way to bring together the Irish community.

“We have a number of successful Irish who have set up business here, from Denis O’Brien with MTC and John Nagle with Red Dot, which has brought in a lot more Irish people.”

And non-Irish. American Sammy McGrill was sitting in a bar in China taking part in the weekly quiz when an announcement was made inviting those with an interest in GAA to fall in with the Dalian Wolfhounds.

“I thought it was a joke,” McGrill recalled by email this week.

“Having studied abroad in Ireland, I had messed around with the basics, but I had never played in any organised manner, and to think I would find that in China seemed ridiculous.

“But as someone who had just moved to China on her own, I thought it would be a good way to meet new people.

“I think the focus should be on the phenomenon of how Gaelic football has spread across Asia, and how it has managed to create a way for people of all nationalities to come together for the craic, both on and off the pitch.

“Who would have thought a sport from a small island would manage to develop a community in the largest continent of the world? Little did I know that this American would fall in love with an Irish game in Asia.

“Leaving China, I remember a mate jokingly say, ‘Well, Sammy, now you can set up a Gaelic football cub in Myanmar’.

“Fast forward, and here I am as one of the founding members and vice-chairperson of the Myanmar Celts.

“Playing Gaelic football with a club in Asia is a special thing, and I would recommend it to anyone, which is why creating a club in Myanmar needed to happen.”

New Zealander Sinead Linton had a similar back-story: “I first started playing for Shanghai ladies a couple of years ago and fell in love with the speed of the sport and skill required to use both hands and feet at the same time.

“As soon as I moved to Burma I started trying to get a Gaelic team set up. I became part of the committee to try and promote the game to people who have never heard of it and I’ve already had many first-time players tell me they really enjoy the game and will continue playing and becoming more involved.”

For Irishman Brian McDonald the key to the club’s success is the diversity.

“The majority of our players being non-Irish, that shows the strength of the sport to bring people together in a way that can be otherwise difficult to find in places like Myanmar. Having the opportunity to share a piece of Ireland with people here is a real source of pride and it’s great to see so many friendships and links being formed.”

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