If you chanced upon a game of Gaelic football in Bangkok, you'd probably be puzzled at the very least. To unaccustomed eyes the sport seems nothing short of bizarre, with 30 players clutching, kicking, and bouncing what looks like an ordinary soccer ball. Indigenous to Ireland, the sport of Gaelic football combines elements of soccer and rugby into a fast-paced and physically intense game. The aim is to score in the odd H-shaped goals at either end of the rectangular pitch. Scoring the ball in the goal below the crossbar earns three points, while placing it over the crossbar earns one point.
NOT JUST FOR THE BOYS: Gaelic football is popular with women too. PHOTO: GEORGE HATCHELL
In the meantime, players can run for a short distance with the ball in hand, kick the ball away, or "hand-pass" it to another player by striking it with their fists. This challenge of effectively managing both hands and feet lasts for a full 60 minutes, split into two equal halves.
Even if this all sounds somewhat bewildering or daunting, fear not - actually grasping the basics isn't too hard. John Campbell, chairman of the Thai Gaelic Athletic Association, says: "Besides being great fun and excellent for keeping in shape, the game is relatively simple to pick up.
"Gaelic football is also alive and kicking in Asia, with countries from Japan to Dubai boasting teams. Our non-Irish membership here tends to be attracted by the combination of a competitive sport and a great social scene, nicely summed up by the Irish expression craic [fun]."
In October last year, the Thai GAA hosted the 14th Asian Gaelic Games, held at Bangkok Patana School. More than 800 people, including celebrities and ambassadors, attended the international tournament, where teams from 16 countries competed.