Around the World in 80 Clubs – Al Ain GAA, United Arab Emirates (#38)
“On one occasion, he was so disgusted by a call from a linesman that he threw the ball high into a tree. The game was delayed while we waited for a ladder.”
Thankfully, we’re assured that not all members of Al Ain GAA are as fiery as the man responsible for the quote above, former player James Carroll, whose feistiness has gone down in legend within the club’s ranks.
Still very much a club in its formative years, Al Ain was founded in 2009 by a small group of expats who wanted to maintain a connection to their Irish heritage through Gaelic games.
Situated inland, right on the border between Oman and the United Arab Emirates, where temperatures during the summer regularly exceed a sweaty 40 degrees, Al Ain GAA has thrived since its foundation and is now an integral part of the expanding Irish community in the area.
The club, which uses the excellent facilities at Al Ain Rugby club, is currently represented by two men’s football teams and three ladies teams and as well as a number of Irish expats, it is represented by players from the United Kingdom, New Zealand and South Africa.
Al Ain were well represented at both the GAA World Games and the recent Middle East All-Stars tour and also entered a men’s team in the St. Jude’s sevens competition on the weekend of the All-Ireland Football final.
With men’s and women’s teams thriving, it’s an exciting time to be involved with Al Ain GAA, which will be thrust into the GAA spotlight in the Middle East on Friday, January 27, when over 600 Middle East-based GAA players travel there for the final round of the Middle East GAA leagues.
We caught up with PRO Lisa Carey to tell us a little more about the club.
Focus on Al Ain
Club: Al Ain GAA
Year established: 2009
Number of members: Approximately 60
Biggest rivals: For the ladies, it has to be Clann na hOman, it’s always an epic battle between the two sides. Thankfully Al Ain have had the edge so far this year.
Biggest representation from a club/county in Ireland: Up until this year we had a massive representation for Mayo, who were dubbed the ‘Mayo Mafia’. This season, there is more of a northern feel to club with an influx of members from Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan.
Most famous ever member: Patrick ‘Gazza’ McHale won a club All-Ireland Championship with Ballina Stephenites back in 2004/2005. Former Mayo goalkeeper Kenneth O‘Malley (below) made a big contribution in his one year with the club. James Carroll has represented Donegal at u-21 level and Kerry man Kieran Quirke was part of the 2009 All-Ireland winning Kerry team.
Most memorable moment in the club’s history: A real proud moment for the club was when six of our men and two of our ladies were selected to represent the Middle East at the GAA World Games in UCD.
Three of our men were on the Middle East team that won the Michael Collins Cup in the final held in Croke Park and all of them made match-winning contributions.
Most eye-catching scoreline in the club’s history: Our ladies team have had some significant wins over many teams this season, which will hopefully result in their promotion to the senior ranks.
Player who makes the longest commute: Patrick McHale used to travel from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain (about an hour and a half drive) to work. He would hang around for training at 7pm and then jump in the car and get home at about 11pm. He has been known to pick up randomers on the side of the road to shorten the journey.
Most dedicated club person: There are a few contenders for this. But it has to go to former chairman Caymon Flynn. Caymon has returned home and it is taking three people to cover all the work he did for the club. So dedicated is Caymon that he has promised to return in the near future.
Player who would have made it big if love/career/drink didn’t get in the way: Graham ‘I’ll just ping it off the ground’ Ward, the solitary Dub in the men’s team (thank God) would surely have climbed up the steps of the Hogan Stand to collect Sam Maguire if he stuck at it.
However, his love of dancing, especially to ‘Saturday Night,’ resulted in dodgy groins and a dodgy knee, which put a stop to his big dreams. Despite his injuries, he can still be found dancing his little heart out on nights out, usually in trousers that are way too tight.
Mary-Claire Ryan was destined for the professional karaoke singing ranks before she was scouted by the Middle East GAA.
Biggest character: Caroline Ryan provides endless entertainment, constantly blocking goalbound shots with a certain body part.
Amy Creegan also often gives us a laugh with frequent comments and remarks that belong to an 80-year old woman.
Proud Waterford man Richie Cosgrave is a good man for one-liners and his photos on the WhatsApp group are the stuff of legend.
Loudest in the dressing room: This award has to go to former player James Carroll. Definitely the loudest on the pitch. One wayward/delayed pass and you’ll no doubt hear a barrage of abuse.
Officials tend to get most of his attention. On one occasion, he was so disgusted by a call from a linesman that he threw the ball high into a tree. The game was delayed while we waited for a ladder.
On the ladies team, Ellana Hackett and MC Ryan always have to have the loudest input.
Number of romances that started in the GAA club (feel free to name names): A few romances have blossomed in Al Ain GAA over the years. Aisling Brennan and James Carroll have been doing a strong line since they first met at a club night out in the wonderfully chic Pacos. James has been spotted doing many sets of lunges and rumours of an eminent engagement are rife.
Duck to water award – Best new player who never played GAA before: This has to be a tie between Johan from South Africa and Rob from Manchester. Johan landed down to play a bit of hurling and has ended up being a regular starter for the senior men’s team this year.
A ‘sticky’ defender who is happy to be a support runner, just like a young Seán Óg De Paor.
Rob is by far the fittest and fastest player in the men’s team. He has really developed the basic skills this year and has found his preferred method of shooting, outside of the boot. It has a low success rate but when it goes over it looks glorious.
Most annoying person in the club WhatsApp group: That has to be our two committee members, Carolyn O’Malley and Lisa Carey, who are constantly pestering the ladies’ WhatsApp group about training and registration reminders.
When the WhatsApp notifications flow in, you can be sure it's them!
While you're here.
Watch the second episode of SportsJOE Live with Ronan O'Gara, Andy Reid, Dion Fanning and Colm Parkinson here.
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