creative direction and words by
photographs by Tim Lytvinenko
Improbable, but not impossible. That was the prediction when the Raleigh Gaelic Athletic Assocation’s Cú Chullain team considered its chances of winning before travelling to Boston over Labor Day weekend to compete in the North American Finals for Gaelic football. Against all odds, the fledgling Raleigh club captured the Junior B title, defeating opponents from the Cayman Islands, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. in the process. It was the latest unlikely outcome for the Raleigh team.
In the spring of 2012, when Detroit native Steven Shannon taped up posters in Triangle-area pubs to generate interest in Irish field sports – Gaelic football and hurling – he never imagined that a mere two years later it would lead to a thriving association that could hold its own against established clubs from larger U.S. cities, clubs that traditionally field teams loaded with Irish talent. But one of the results of the economic growth in the Triangle has been the influx of international workers who come to work for universities and multinational companies, and are looking for an outlet in competitive sports.
Dara Ó’Hannaidh is one whose job brought him Stateside. A telecom network engineer for Ericsson, he has played Gaelic football since he was 5, and missed the camraderie and level of play from his homeland. Other players have similar stories. Many grew up playing in Ireland where county teams are highly competitive and demanding, typically training 5 to 6 days a week. Though it’s a strictly amateur sport, Ó’Hannaidh says there is a level of “real fanaticism.” He, by the way, also won this year’s national competition in kick fada, or long distance kicking, and represented North America in the All-Ireland kick fada competition against 30 other kickers from around the globe in September.
It’s easy to see why there’s so much passion for Gaelic football. The sport is fast-paced, rough, and exciting to watch. National Geographic recently named the All-Ireland Senior Championship finals played in Dublin’s Croke Park as one of the top 10 things to do when visiting. Often described as a mix between soccer and rugby, Gaelic football involves advancing the ball by hand-passing and kicking it towards a goal. Hurling, for its part, is one of the oldest (dating back 3,000 years) and fastest field sports. Players use a wooden flat-headed bat called a hurley to hurl or knock a baseball-like ball called a sliothar down the pitch and into the net.
Currently, the Raleigh Gaelic Athletic Association boasts nearly 300 hurling and footballing members, both men and women, and is in the process of forming new teams at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State. Though it relies on its Irish members for expertise, both sports appeal to American athletes who have grown up playing soccer, lacrosse, rugby and other field sports. Members actively recruit new talent, expecially at cultural events like the Irish Music Festival and Raleigh’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. When they’re not practicing or playing in tournaments, teammates frequently gather at one of the local pubs to watch competitions telecast from Ireland.
Walter was so enchanted to learn about the presence of Gaelic football and hurling in the Triangle that we asked players from the victorious Cú Chullain team to model classic sportswear from local retailers. The results exceeded our improbable dreams. Though the players are rough-and-tumble on the pitch, we think they cleaned up rather nicely for the photographs.
For more information about Raleigh’s GAA, go to www.raleighgaa.com.
We thank the following local retailers for providing the clothing for this photo shoot:
Liles Clothing Studio
Saks Fifth Avenue
Style assistant: Sarah Osborne