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What happens when GAA comes tumbling back into our lives?

Author: Charlie O'Neill

The Saigon Gaels ladies team practising social distancing during our first training session post-lockdown

Nothing compares to an Irish summer, a summer where the weather makes for perfect sweet smelling cut grass and strikingly red tan lines. A summer munching cold and creamy 99s on sizzling sand or slipping into your best football gear and playing a club match in the evening. An Irish summer is where you live for the weekend to see your county battle it out for the coveted place on the steps of the Hogan Stand with Liam McCarthy or Sam Maguire in hand. But as the month’s progress and the virus continues to rage it has left a gaping hole in the hearts of the GAA fanatics worldwide.

While club and county players across Ireland and the world patiently wait for their annual competitions to restart, one country in the world, has rejuvenated that wholesome summer feeling of sport. That country is Vietnam! This country tucked away in what you may think would be the breathing ground for COVID-19, sharing a border with China has broken this mould and have been 1 of the first countries to eradicate their restrictions completely. ave put has returned to full training and that is the Saigon Gaels in Vietnam. The cobwebs left on the boots and bodies of these players over lockdown were dusted away as training commenced in late May. The summer months, unlike Ireland, is when South East Asian teams take a well-earned rest from GAA but COVID-19 has restructured the whole campaign. Not only has the virus altered the season but it has transformed the way we play, the way we coach our game and has created the normalisation of health and safety practices such as temperature checks.

Our first training back felt like a breath of fresh air, literally since the rainy season has begun in the southern regions of Vietnam, the days are much cooler. Before everything commenced the balls and equipment were disinfected in case of any lingering bacteria. Then an online health declaration established by the Vietnamese government had to be signed by every participant at training and our newly devised Health and Safety officer took temperature checks all before the first ball was kicked.

Social distancing in Vietnam is not to the calibre as it is in Ireland. Remaining a 2metre distance in a sprawling city such as Saigon is virtually impossible. The experience of lockdown, however, can be empathised in every country and this has modified the structure of our regular training to ensure the safety of our players and to regain the level of performance needed to succeed in our upcoming summer season. Coaching has also taken a modification with more emphasis to the basic skills of kicking, passing and catching and sprints off the ball similar to the 9-a-side match environment seen in Asian GAA. Performance alteration towards accelerating, decelerating, multidirectional movements and human contact is a far cry from the long distanced runs and home workouts our players feasted upon during lockdown. All this said the motivation shown by the GAA community in Saigon and Hanoi has allowed training to have a purpose. Tournaments across the globe have seen a stalemate, however, the 4th of July in Hanoi, Vietnam will exhibit an invigorating tri-sport tournament to keep the tongues wagging of all athletes in Vietnam.

The North vs South Summer Series aims to bring together three communities and sports together for a day of raw competitive rivalry and a long-awaited social outing this year. GAA, AFL and Rugby are set to join forces in Saigon to face our northern antagonists in a return series set to be played out during the summer. The tournament which will see Hanoi host the first meeting on the 1st weekend in July and Saigon taking the reigns in late August has built excitement within all the members of these clubs to finally perform in their preferred sport but to also have the opportunity to branch out into the other sports on offer.

For results and reaction on the first round of Vietnam’s North vs South Summer Series watch this space…...

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