Football and basketball typically dominate the Memphis sports scene, but one sport is rising in popularity. Gaelic football, the Irish pastime dating back to the 19th century, has morphed into a global sport with more than 2,500 clubs worldwide, and it has now spread to Memphis.
Traditional Gaelic football requires 15 players for each team, but the Memphis Gaelic Football League (MGFL) plays with 14 players on each team. The Gaelic football field is about 140 yards in length and 90 yards in width. The ball has 18 stitched leather panels, like a large volleyball. Players are allowed to kick or hand pass the ball.
“It is bigger than just the sporting aspect,” Dermot Murray, one of the league’s founders said. “There is a sense of community around the league.”
The actual league consists of four squads sponsored by the Brass Door, Majestic Grille, Celtic Crossing and Murphy’s. Murray, club chairman and Majestic Grille team captain, grew up playing Gaelic football in Mullingar, Ireland. He took over as chairman in 2017 and is continuing to grow the sport in Memphis.
Gaelic football attracts those looking for something different, which is how most members of the Memphis Gaelic Football League found the sport.
“There is a novelty factor to the sport,” Murray said. “Most of these people that come out and play have never heard of this sport. I also find that Memphians are generally open to trying out new things.”
The league did not always look like this since its conception in 2015. Murray, Liam Coyle and Eric Vick were the only three attendees at the first practice. Coyle and Murray are of Irish descent, and their love for their Irish heritage fueled the early stages of the MGFL. Coyle, the captain of the Brass Door team, grew up in the northeast and learned the game from his father, who played Gaelic football professionally.
“I was studying a lot, and I needed some Irish culture back in my life,” Coyle said. “I was talking to my buddy in a bar, and I decided that I needed a hobby. I found a Facebook post and showed up to the first practice.”
The idea of camaraderie is emphasized each Sunday when dozens gather at the Greensward in Overton Park. Members of the league have varying skill levels.
“I played soccer briefly when I was young, but I do not have a major background in sports,” engineer Jared Sanders said. “I was not looking for something like this until my friend Kyle (Johnson) introduced me.”
Sanders was dressed in a MGFL jersey and pointed out his friend who was wearing a similar jersey.
“Jared would have never thought to play Gaelic football until I recommended it to him,” Johnson said. “Most league members find out about the sport through mutual friends. Jared and I work together, so it just worked out that we both play in the league now.”
The MGFL is currently in the offseason, but many of the league’s players and amateurs practice and play matches on Sundays. In the 2017 season, each team played five matches, with the Brass Door-sponsored team coming out on top, having five wins in as many games.
MGFL matches are set to resume for the 2018 spring season in the coming weeks. The public is welcome to attend at the Greensward on Sundays at 1 p.m. to catch all the MGFL action.
Gaelic Football is an Irish pastime that combines aspects of popular sports such as soccer, football, and Rugby. The sport has made its way to the Mid-South
Gaelic football is an Irish pastime dates back to the 19th century and since then has morphed into a global sport with more than 2,500 clubs worldwide. The sport has spread to Memphis.