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  • charlotteoneill54

Joining the GAA Family

A Rugby Player, a teacher and an Englishwomen!

Our newest recruit into the Gaels' community is the stocky and skilled Anne Wheeler from the island of Guernsey in the UK. With experience in numerous sports since her childhood, Anne effortlessly crossed into the realm of Gaelic Football earlier this year and our recent tournament in Hanoi showed what a threat she can be with a ball in hand.

Here is her experience with the Gaels'

Anne pictured here competing for the ball against VietCelts in the North vs South Series


There is nothing quite like a sports tour. I experienced my first when I was 17 and had only been playing rugby for a few months. Three days later, on returning home, I sat on the sofa with bags of frozen peas on both knees and a full body hangover from the combination of my first contact rugby, constant adrenaline and excitement, and a fair amount of pear cider (which I’ve never been able to drink again).

Jump on a decade and many tours later, I’m boarding a plane from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi with my latest rugby family, the Saigon Geckos. But there’s something a little different about this tour weekend. I’m as nervous as usual before a rugby game, especially since I haven’t played a match for over a year, but there’s also the added twist of emotion that only comes from playing a completely new sport. Whilst I’ve played football, hockey, basketball, netball, cricket and rugby throughout my time in the UK, it’s taken a move across the world to South East Asia to introduce me to Gaelic football.

By happy coincidence I turned up to rugby training for the first time on the same day as Charlie, a 23-year-old from County Kerry who I can still barely understand, and I heard her talk passionately about her national sport. An immediate friendship was formed and I found myself often surrounded by Irish accents, my ear becoming better tuned and my vocabulary widened with new colloquialisms. All of a sudden, this football thing was starting to sound like a lot of fun. Generally, I’m in for anything with a team, a ball and a goal, but this had the added bonus of a bunch of people who were all about the craic.

Just before pandemic robbed us off of sport for a while, the Saigon Gaels hosted a traditional Railway Cup competition. The main event was the rivalry between the Gaels and the visiting VietCelts from Hanoi but the day also aimed to involve the other sports teams of the city in Gaelic football. I signed up along with several others from the rugby club all of whom had no real idea about how to play this round balled game. The day was brilliantly organized with lots of games and mixed teams to involve the inexperienced with knowledgeable players. I spent the day running around, chasing after a ball I had no idea what to do with and having the whistle blown at me a lot. Other players would kindly answer my questions when I asked what I’d done wrong, and the strangers who were my team mates would high five when we managed a goal or pulled off a good play. The sun was shining, the beer was cheap and almost cold, and I was surrounded by people who wanted to play hard and compete. I definitely wanted to play this sport.

A few months later, sport was allowed back and Gaels were reassuringly organized with temperature checks and a surplus of hand gel. I nervously rocked up to my first training session, extremely grateful that I could already call several of the women on the team my friends, shook hands with the coach and threw myself into it. Learning new skills is a wonderful experience when you trust the people you are surrounded by, and that is the environment provided by the Saigon Gaels Women’s team and their coach, Jonny. No mistake was ever treated harshly, despite weeks of not being able to hand pass legally under pressure, and questions were answered with helpful explanations. Constant reassurance was given by my new team mates and coach, and I started to hope that I would be able to play a few minutes of my new sport when we all headed north for the multi-sports tour.

What transpired on Saturday 4th July in Hanoi finds it way easily into the Top 5 Sporting Experiences of My Life*. Between getting on the bus at 7.30am as a Gael and leaving at nearly 6pm as Gecko, (with a brief and confusing interlude as a Swan (AFL) in the middle) I gave everything I had to my teams and few things in life are as joyful as the sheer exhaustion I felt at after the final final whistle of the day. That night I got to celebrate with not one but two clubs of welcoming, supportive and competitive people. It’s been a scary year of unknowns but there are a few things I’m sure of; being part of a sports team is a privilege and egg-shaped balls are the best, but on a Tuesday you’ll find me with a round one concentrating on counting my steps and trying to remember to palm the ball when I pass.

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