Being unable to watch their beloved club is one of the hardest things for a GAA member who emigrates, but the exciting new development of GAA streaming might change all that.
We get messages from people saying ‘I’m here with nine or ten of my local friends in Abu Dhabi. Only two of them have ever seen a Gaelic football match before but they have come over to see my club play.'
Liam Horan, founder of 'Local Streaming'
For most Irish people who emigrate there will always be a strong sense of home that will travel with them wherever they go in life. Thoughts of the parish they come from, the local characters, old friends from their area. This is why Marty Morrissey's commentary before the All-Ireland hurling final was so popular - he connected with Irish all around the world on a day when they would have been missing home.
You can watch the All-Ireland final in New York or Abu Dhabi, and if you are from a relatively strong county you can follow them through the highlights or live coverage RTE and TG4 provide throughout the year. But in terms of club football or hurling you have to hope your club reaches a senior county, provincial or national final in order to watch them in action.
So what if you could watch your club from anywhere in the world whether it was junior, intermediate or senior?
On October 29th, the company streamed the Mayo senior and intermediate football finals. 12,165 people watched online from 48 different countries around the world, with a further thousand watching the games after the live coverage had finished.
Horan does audio commentary for his club Ballinrobe, while Moran would shoot video for his own club Aghamore (both in Mayo). A mutual friend introduced them and a partnership was formed. Horan, a former sports journalist with RTE and the Irish Independent, says they have been struck by how much it actually means to GAA fans around the world to be able to watch their clubs from afar:
In a world that has been shrunk communications-wise maybe it brings us back to local in some ways...it’s incredible to think that something as simple as Westport vs Kiltimagh in the Mayo intermediate final can mean so much to people from Westport and Kiltimagh - and other places - (who live) around the world.
That they could gather somewhere and watch the game meant so much to people.
And it isn't just restricted to those watching from abroad. Horan says they got plenty of feedback from people around Ireland who enjoyed seeing 'Footballer of the Year' Lee Keegan playing for his club. This is something GAA fans would not normally experience without going to the game, as Keegan's club (Westport) are an intermediate side:
He does a very solid midfield job as well – he doesn’t pound from the half-back line like he does for Mayo – and people are curious about that. We’ve all seen Gooch for (Dr) Crokes, Paddy Durcan for (Castlebar) Mitchel’s, but actually to see a genuine legend like Keegan playing at intermediate level for his club is very interesting for people.
After clubs cover the cost of the broadcast (generally through a sponsor), Horan and Moran will utilise the services of a co-commentator from each club and will interview sponsors, chairmen or any other relevant parties before and after a game. The neutral aspect to the coverage ensures it differs from the average club's coverage of a game, which tends to be naturally biased towards the club doing the coverage.
With the equipment and skill set required to carry out a broadcast hard to come by and the coverage of the games "not the most lucrative sector of the world" Horan says that setting up the service is a lot more difficult than it might initially appear. And, once suitable equipment and personnel are acquired, there are still difficulties. Unpredictable fixture lists don't help.
What often happens is a team arrives in a county final at short notice, their costs are going through the roof and they’re scouring the parish for sponsorship. Then this lands on their doorstep. Sometimes, with the best wish in the world, it comes too quickly for clubs.
Then there are the regulations that anyone seeking to stream games must abide by. Guidelines come from Croke Park that must be adhered to and in order to stream a match permission must be granted by the county board (provided TG4 haven't already obtained the rights to the game).
Nevertheless, it is an exciting development for GAA fans across the world - and, perhaps, for the GAA itself in its quest to spread coverage of its games as far as possible. It would have been unthinkable only a short time ago that someone from a junior or intermediate club who emigrates would still be able to watch their club's exploits. Now it is possible that the connection they have with their club can still be maintained and clubs can themselves keep track of those they lose to foreign climes.
Even if it isn't your club playing, you'll still watch it. Mick O'Dwyer wrote in his book of his habit of stopping off anytime he was driving somewhere and spotted a Gaelic football match taking place. Most of us who love the game are no different, as Horan outlines.
If you’re a Gaelic football fan, you’re a Gaelic football fan full stop. Which means that you don’t mind watching your local college playing, you don’t mind watching almost anybody playing.
We’ve all been on the couch on a Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock and said ‘I wonder who is on TG4 today', turned it on, taken a minute to fully calibrate who it is (that is playing) and an hour later been totally engrossed in it.
A GAA fan can go from All-Ireland final Sunday to the following week watching his own club.
From the glamour and noise of All-Ireland final Sunday to the more modest settings of a junior championship game. Now imagine being able to watch both of those in New York or Abu Dhabi. Imagine a proud father or mother, long since having left Ireland, being able to show their son or daughter the small club in which they were reared and where their love of Gaelic games developed.
What a magnificent privilege that would be.