Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An Irish Year in Sports

We were raised on American sports. Football, baseball, and basketball are our sporting languages, and touchdowns, earned run averages, and free throws are our vocabulary. From the violent-yet-chess-like move/countermove of football to the leisurely-paced, crotch-scratching headgames of baseball, to the gritty-and-strictly-timed ballet of basketball, these games are our sports reality- what speaks to us.

So in one year away from the States, could our sports tastes change and grow? Would we find ourselves stuck in our old ways, or could we learn to appreciate international sports?

First, let's talk football. American football in particular is a sport we both can watch, share, and appreciate together. We knew it would be one piece of Americana that we would miss dearly when we left the landlocked shores of Iowa. Hot dogs we might be able to do without, but a life without football? Could it be done?

Turns out, it can- in a number of different-but-not-perfect ways.

Watch American football on an internet stream

Yes, there is always streaming, legal and illegal, to feed a football jones. This has proven to be a difficult replacement for the real American football experience. Watching on a freezy/laggy/poor-quality stream in a small apartment just isn't anything like packing a stadium or even a divey sports bar with a crowd of like-minded fans.

The time difference is also a killer. We can't stay up late for the primetime American games. Even the unmissable Super Bowl didn't kick off until almost midnight here in Ireland, and the extended halftime show and commercial breaks stretched it almost until sunrise.

Take advantage of the Croke Park Classic 2014

That's a big 10-4 on that, good buddy! We purchased our tickets to this event just after they went on sale last Fall. Penn State will be taking on Central Florida on the hallowed grounds of Ireland's national GAA stadium. This will be a great time for us, no doubt, but it will be just the one game. And we all know that no sports fix can be fed with just one game!

Learn and follow the popular local sports

When in Rome Ireland, get to know the popular sports and cheer on the local teams! Isn't that what they say? Despite the efforts of American professional sports leagues, they just aren't very popular here yet. Irish sports fan dig their teeth more into soccer, rugby, and Gaelic sports.


It has been interesting to listen to the local sports report on the radio each morning. We assume the sports editors generally reflect the preferences and passions of the locals, so we go with what they say. When Ireland soccer was playing qualifying matches for the World Cup, Irish soccer was big in the news- particularly the drama with the team's head coach, who resigned shortly after the World Cup qualifying losing streak.


When rugby time rolled around, the drama really rose. Ireland seems to have been having more success in rugby than in soccer recently, so media coverage and casual conversations were much more enthusiastic. Ireland winning the Six Nations Rugby championship certainly didn't hurt matters... We had a great time learning the game of rugby and some of its ins and outs. Much of the strategy and a few of the more obscure rules are still beyond us, but we'll tune in again when the season kicks off again next year.

Gaelic Sports

And Gaelic sports, Ireland's national sports identity. We sincerely enjoy watching these specialized and highly-skilled games- particularly hurling. They give us a home team (County Dublin) to support and follow in a sport enjoyed by Irish people everywhere. The GAA has not been without its share of controversy this year, making a deal with Sky Sports to show live matches. This will be the first time that matches will be aired on a paid-subscription service and not over the air for free on RTE.

A number of hardcore traditionalists have criticized this move in the papers, slamming the GAA for selling the rights to traditional Irish games to the English and their greedy media empire. Many rural Irish people who cannot or will not subscribe to the Sky cable or satellite packages will not be able to watch these traditional favorites.

Of course, the benefits of this deal are also discussed. GAA sports will now have more international exposure than ever before, and will be broadcast live to millions of potential new fans. The GAA is also a nonprofit organization that supports developing leagues and communities all over Ireland. These profits (supposedly) will be distributed to the various GAA county clubs around the country.

Controversy aside, we try to catch live Dublin hurling and football matches whenever we can. If things continue like this, GAA sports might actually be something we miss when we move on from Ireland's shores? Might we someday be writing on this very blog about missing the annual All-Ireland championship matches?

It is amazing how our sports tastes have grown in one year. I use the word grown and not changed because we haven't suddenly decided that American sports are boring games with strict clocks and too much stoppage of play. We don't only accept sports if the players are wearing collared shirts with traditional heraldry crests for logos. We have added some of these non-American favorites to our sports repertoire. We still have a long way to go with soccer, cricket, and horse racing, but give it time. Maybe we'll be heading down to Paddy Power to put a few quid on One Pint Too Many in the third race next year!

Maybe this living abroad thing really is expanding our experience, after all.

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