Gaelic Football Team Organizing Game for Celtic Festival



Les Patriotes de Quebec shown here at a tournament in Montreal, May
2009. (Back row, left to right) Jean-Philippe Mazet, Jerome Fiolleau,
Jean-Sebastien Gagnon, Alexandra Furlong, David Talbot, Darragh Murphy
and Jean Pouliot (Front row, left to right) Alexis Giroux, Steve
Moreau, Stewart, John Cheetham, Alain Lachance and Michal Pawica.

The game is played on a soccer field, but with a ball that looks like a volleyball.

Players are allowed to push and shove and pass the ball by kicking or striking it.

Players cannot run with the ball in hand for more than four steps without releasing, bouncing, or kicking the ball back into his hands.

Three points are made by putting the ball in the net, or one, by getting it over the cross bar.

In a nutshell, that is how Gaelic football is played.

The sport, barely known in Quebec City, enjoys wild popularity in Ireland.

"I attended a game in Dublin at the Crocke Park and 83,000 people were watching," says Ile d'Orleans resident Jean Pouillot.

Pouillot plays for and is a member of the board of directors of Les Patriotes de Quebec, the local Gaelic football team. So far this year, the team has played seven games against opponents that include the Montreal Shamrocks, and various American teams. The Shamrocks are the province's only other Gaelic football team.

Pouillot is hoping to organize a game against the Shamrocks during the Celtic Festival the first week of September. The festival schedule includes a 4 p.m. match on the Plains of Abraham on Sept. 5.

Most players in other leagues are Irish born players, but Les Patriotes annually field only two or three Irish natives.

"When we play against Americans, they can't get over a team that speaks French on the pitch," says Pouillot.

The Quebec City team is very open, all are welcome to their practices on the Plains of Abraham in front of the museum of fine arts on Thursdays at 6 p.m., and two women are part of their team.

"We are always looking for new players," Pouillot says of their practices, "But that doesn't mean we'll include them in our tournament against Montreal."

One of the team's two women who play on a regular basis is Alexandra Furlong, 23. She was recruited, fittingly, on St-Patrick's Day last year.

"I like to stay in shape and we have a cool team," she says "The English community is there and it's a social thing as well."

In some tournaments, the games aren't co-ed. In Montreal in May, Furlong played with the Ottawa Gaels, a woman's team. Furlong hopes to one day start a women's team in Quebec City, but finding enough dedicated players is difficult.

Pouillot says Gaelic football a rough game, but less so than rugby or American football.

Two years ago, during a single tournament, players suffered broken ribs and dislocated shoulders. Pouillot himself needed stitches under his chin.

"When we practice, we play smart," says he says, "We don't tackle the ladies."

Furlong says she has tried recruiting friends to come and play, but they often feel the game is too dangerous, "but it's not". She says the hardest thing to learn is to stay relaxed on the field.

"It took me time to get comfortable with the ball and not panic when someone is running after you," she says.

After practices, the players often make their way to their team sponsor, Pub Galway, on Rue Cartier for a pint and some socializing.

The team was founded at Nelligan's Pub in 2006 and has since then relied on word of mouth for recruiting new players.

For both Pouillot and Furlong, the social aspect of the sport is as important to them as the physical one.

"They are like my brothers," Furlong says. "They have my back."