Gaelic football is a sport played mainly in Northern and Southern Ireland. The organisation which runs the sport (like, for example, the Football Association in England) is called the GAA, which stands for the Gaelic Athletic Association. Football is not the only game managed by this group: hurling, camogie and handball being the others.
The sport itself is played with a ball about the same size as a soccer ball, but slightly harder. The pitch is approximately 130m long and 82m wide with two unique goals at each end. They are basically in the same shape as rugby posts, but the cross-bar is lower and has a net, like in soccer, below it. 45m from each goal there is a line (called quite simply the "45") and the centre line is positioned 65m from the posts.
The start and the various restarts
The game starts off with a "throw-up". This is where the referee throws the ball straight up into the air between two players from the two sides, rather like basketball. When the ball leaves the field of play at the side, the team who did not touch it last restart the match by fisting the ball back into play. If a defending team hits the ball out, or touches it last before it leaves the field of play, a free kick is awarded to the attacking team, which they take from the '45'.
Playing the Game
There are two ways to pass the ball in Gaelic football: kicking and fisting. Kicking is obviously using the foot to pass the ball to another member of your team. The definition of fisting is less blatant: it is not punching the ball, but using the ball of the palm to pass.
One cannot run with the ball for more than five steps, so to go on an individual attack there are two skills to use: soloing, which is dropping the ball onto the foot and then kicking it back into the hands, and bouncing, which is obviously bouncing it off the ground back into one's hands. There are limitations to the latter, however: it is illegal to bounce it twice in succession. This rule does not apply to the use of the solo.
It is possible to score points in two ways in Gaelic football. The first way is by kicking or fisting the ball over the bar and through the goalposts: this is awarded by one point. The other is by kicking or fisting the ball into the net under the crossbar and between the posts: this merits three points.
There are 15 players on each team, including the goalkeeper.
The players wear their team colours and all have a number on the back of their jersey.
There are seven officials in the game: one referee, two linesmen and four umpires (two at each set of goalposts). The latter are there to determine whether a point has been scored and whether the ball has crossed the goal-line for a goal kick. They raise a white flag for a point and a green flag for a goal.
The structure of the sport and the competitions
The GAA has a base in almost every small town and village in Ireland because of the sport's popularity throughout the country. Consequently, each village (and each school for that matter) has its own team, which competes in regional and county competitions. There is also a county team (there are 32 counties in Ireland) which competes in the provincial tournament (there are four provinces: Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connaught). Once progressing through this stage the county teams compete in the All-Ireland Championship in an effort to be crowned the best team in the country. It is this competition which gets the most coverage and as a consequence the national stadium, Croke Park, used for the All-Ireland final, has a capacity of over 70,000 people.
The history of the game
Gaelic football goes back further than both soccer and rugby, and is probably the basis for Australian Rules Football because there were an awful lot of Irish immigrants and convicts who travelled to Australia. In fact, the origins of the Gaelic games pre-date recorded history.