Around the World in 80 Clubs – Malmö GAA Club, Sweden (#24)
How many GAA clubs can claim a Eurovision contestant as a member?
Malmö GAA can and not just one either; two former contestants have been made lifetime members (more on that one later) in the club's brief existence to date, one of a number of interesting details about the GAA club in one of Sweden's southernmost cities.
Club trainer and PRO Neil Dunne reckons that about 100 players have donned the green and gold since the club was formed in 2009, one of whom once travelled 3,600 kilometres from the Arctic Circle for a couple of games.
Travelling long distances is a part of life in Scandinavian GAA and the folks in Malmö GAA have plenty of tales to tell, including one involving a poor referee who'll never forget the name Dave 'The Bull' Burns.
Focus on Malmö GAA Club
Club: Malmö GAA Club, Sweden
Year established: The club was founded in 2009. The ladies team was officially established in 2010 and began competing in 2011.
Number of members: Right now it’s probably around 50. There’s a fair few after coming through since the club’s beginning. I’d say all in all there could be 100 players to have donned the green and gold.
Biggest rivals: It was Copenhagen, then it was Stockholm, but now it could be Gothenburg.
Our games against Copenhagen were always fairly physical. Gothenburg have been getting the better of us as well in recent times. We knocked them both off the Scandinavian throne back in 2009. Stockholm did the same to us so maybe things are going cyclically.
For the ladies, it’s definitely Stockholm. They knocked the Stockholm ladies off of their perch when they broke onto the scene and that didn’t sit too well up in the capital.
The Gothenburg and Copenhagen ladies have been rubbing them up the wrong way recently as well. The ladies are fierce fiery once they get going.
There’s a good rivalry with the AFL club here in town as well. We play them every St. Patrick’s weekend in the International Cup, an international rules game. In seven years, they’re yet to get one over us though. We made it seven this year with quite a convincing result. We also give them the odd practice match before their season begins.
We started up an Irish AFL side a few seasons back to keep match fit, called the Malmö Convicts, but interest in that eventually waned.
Biggest representation from a club/county in Ireland: Over the course of the club’s history it would be Cork.
I think there are nine from there who’ve lined out for us at one time or another. Galway has had six, Dublin about the same. There’s been a spate of Ulstermen in recent years with anything up to six at training if they put their minds to it. We haven’t covered all 32 counties yet but we’re on our way.
In regards to clubs, on one occasion we had three Dunne brothers who all previously played for Templeogue Synge Street playing on the same pitch for Malmö GAA.
It was probably a more worrying prospect for their own teammates having to deal with three playing together than the opposition.
Most famous ever member: Ryan Dolan, the lad who represented Ireland in the Eurovision a few years ago here in Malmö. I think he was made a lifetime member, as well as the Austrian representative.
Her name was Kelly and she claimed she had a bit of Irish in her. They came down to training one Saturday morning and had a crack at it. I think the Austrian girl was marginally better than Dolan.
Most memorable moment in the club’s history: That has to be the lads winning the European shield in 2012 and the girls doing the same in 2013.
After a win in Copenhagen for the boys, we went on to be runners-up in Vienna a month later and were eventually knocked out in the semi-final in the final European round in Maastricht. We only needed to place better than a round robin to be crowned champions so most of the boys had their eye on the pints once the points were secured.
However, it still hurt to not take a second cup in the series. That was a heavy night and a heavy next day as well. It’s a pity there was no bonfire to welcome us home afterwards.
The girls travelled to Athlone in 2013 for the final round of the Europeans with the bare panel of nine. After being put up by friends of friends living nearby and being shown a thing or two about Irish hospitality, they managed to crawl out of the bed and secure a second successive European crown for the club.
With the bare bones of a team and the porter heads on them, it showed the fighting spirit they have. All the more so when you consider there was only one homegrown footballer, Deirdre O’Rourke from Waterford, amongst them.
Most eye-catching score line in the club’s history: I’m not sure about the most eye-catching score-line since we only play blitz championship games, but there have been some very lopsided scores. At our first ever tournament in 2009 we were beaten out the gate by Gothenburg and Copenhagen. They really were unmerciful hidings.
We’d had four fellas at our only training two days earlier and were propped up by a baseball player in goals and a few rugby and AFL players. So to say there was no cohesion was an understatement.
I’d have to say fair play to those lads who travelled to that first tournament and especially John Noonan, the founder of the club. We probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.
Anyway, a month later in Malmö and with a few sessions under our belts, we ended up beating the same two teams by so much that we ended up winning the Scandinavian championship outright on points difference.
Player who makes the longest commute to training: Ciarán Smyth from Fermanagh probably travels furthest for training. It’s about an 80km round trip from Helsingborg by car.
We had a Swedish lad on the panel a few years back, Niklas Sääv, who travelled from Kiruna, a mining town in the top of Sweden (and inside the Arctic Circle!), to Copenhagen for a tournament and headed back again the next morning.
In all, he travelled around 3,600km for a couple of games. He was mad for football and craic but the distances and work made it impossible for him to carry on in the end.
Most dedicated club person: While he was around you couldn’t beat Joe Whelan for dedication. I’m not too sure where Joe’s from. He was from Laois in the beginning but then a girl from Inishturk dragged him home so I think he classes himself as from Mayo now. Joe was our secretary for four years and everything was run like clockwork while he was there.
He’d be planning for away fixtures in June after the AGM in January and he’d nearly be standing at the door of the bus or train with a roll to make sure everything and everyone was accounted for. He wouldn’t just know the time of a train but he’d have the train number, where it originated and who was driving it just to be on the safe side.
He once drove to Vienna from Malmö (17 hours one way) for a tournament with four of us thrown in to make sure we’d pick up the points in the European shield competition. After the post-tournament meal we headed on to the nightclub and Joe headed off for a few hours sleep and to collect the gear before picking us up outside the club with a bit of drink, all set for the spin home.
You could always count on him to line the pitch and hang the nets on match days, even though he had about a 100km round trip to the field from his house. A true stalwart and gentleman in the club. We named the ‘Club Person of the Year’ award after him since he moved home.
Linda Zozevski from Melbourne, the founder of the ladies team, also deserves a mention. Without her, the ladies team wouldn’t exist.
Player who could have made it big if love/career/drink didn’t get in the way: There’s a fair few of them. You could say most of the men’s team has a problem keeping a lid on it the night before big away games. I don’t think anyone has put the career first just yet and when it comes to love, most people have put football before it.
But there is one person who could definitely be described as one who did make it big. She wouldn’t like to be named out of modesty but her medal collection does include league and All-Ireland medals.
Biggest character: That would probably be Noel Grehan, self-declared as Longford’s most handsome man. That graduated to Ireland’s most handsome man after a while. Usually if there’s sport or craic to be knocked out of something, he’s stuck inside in the middle of it.
On the plane home from Maastricht, he managed to coax a champagne breakfast from one of the air hostesses for the team. When she came down with the bottles he looked behind to point out the rest of the players but they’d all fallen asleep. So he ended up with the champagne for himself. He also ended up in the cockpit for a photo with the shield before getting off the plane.
Loudest in the dressing room: Denis O’Riordan from Cork usually tends to get fairly geed up before games. I’d say he loses half his puff before the game and ends up tanking.
Aidan “Ginger” O’Reilly, another Cork man, was always one for the impassioned plea in huddles as well. Dave 'The Bull' Burns gets fairly agitated and wanders around blowing steam while effing and blinding.
Number of romances that started in the GAA club (feel free to name names): There’s a few on the go alright. Some might have been brought into the club beforehand though. Both Gaeton and Sofia, as well as Neil and Jeanne, definitely started after meeting in the club.
Duck to water award – Best new player who had never played GAA before: I’d be doing a disservice to all the newcomers through the years since all of them took to the game very well, so the fairest to do would be pick the original first-timers.
We’ve had a few Aussies playing for us as well so they had an obvious advantage from playing AFL over others.
For the men’s team, the first duck to water would be Simmi “Iceman” Josteinsson from Iceland. An absolutely class player. His speed was something else and he was fit as a fiddle. He was soloing at full tilt from his first training.
You could stick him in at corner forward and he’d bag 1-2 for you and probably set up a few more. You could just as easily put him in corner-back to do a job on a fella and he’d be equally at home, welding himself to attackers and being a major nuisance. Coolness personified on penalties too.
For the girl’s team, one of the stand out players in their first outing was Nadia Maihi from New Zealand. She was always calm and relaxed on the ball and as good bombing forward as she was at stripping possession from the half-back slot.
There was never any panic in her play. She was well able to read the game too and despite having never played football before, she had no problem in understanding her position and where others should be. She deservedly has a few player of the tournament trophies on the mantelpiece for her efforts down through the years, as well as a few championship medals.
Most annoying person in the club WhatsApp group: We don’t have one as far as I know. Maybe I was left out of it. On the Facebook group and emails, it’d have to be Gavin Turley from Laois. He’s always looking to troll and get a rise out of people.
There’s still a few who haven’t copped on to his subtle way of getting in the dig. He’ll tell you he’s just being straightforward with you though. It’s pretty funny all the same. You always have to watch the quiet ones.
Best story involving a club member that’s fit for print: Having our pitch right beside the sea and with the dressing rooms a ten minute walk away, it’s a luxury to take a dip after training and matches. The weather in Sweden is usually decent during the summer as well, so it’s nice to go and jump into the water from one of the timber walkways dotted along the beach.
After one home tournament where we had just lost a close final, we made our way down to our usual spot. The other teams would mostly follow on as well and have a can of beer in the water while letting the cool water go to work on the muscles.
The referee who’d called the final was standing around, asking about the depth and the temperature and if it was ok to get in. Then one of our lads, Dave 'The Bull' Burns, came up behind him and pushed him straight in shouting, “You may as well get in to f**k and find out yourself!”
The ref was still in his gear, the only gear he had with him, because he came straight from his hotel togged out, and had everything in his pockets. Phone, wallet, referee’s notebook and hotel key. The thing he was most upset about was the 20 fags he had in his top pocket that got soaked and were only fit for the bin.