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International Rules - living up to the name: Denver

  • Monday, October 04 2004 @ 12:49 am ACST
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International Rules International Rules Football - it is a long and impressive sounding name, but so far few outside of Ireland and Australia would know it referred to the hybrid Aussie/Gaelic game played each October between the elite of the AFL and the GAA. Yet how many Aussies and Irish would know that (not withstanding the annual under 17s matches) it is not just the 24 official October Tests that have seen the tackle and mark with an O'Neills Gaelic ball? And that playing fields have been graced with the curious sight of 4 posts, cross-bar and nets, not just in Croke Pk or the MCG, but in fields across North America, Germany and Asia?

Over the past decade with the growth of Gaelic and Aussie Rules clubs globally, there has been plenty of player exchange, Irish accents in Aussie Rules teams and vice versa. Now clubs of the Gaelic and Australian footy variety are increasingly challenging eachother to duels with the hybrid game. And with local spread, "holding the ball!" is cried in Japanese, German, Canuck and American accents.

Some purists in both codes are uneasy about this genetically modified game, but to the big games the fans are voting with bums on seats, and for expat GAA and Aussie footy clubs the cultural exchange both on and off the field is proving very rewarding. This is the first of a series of articles about the "spread of the hybrid!"

We'll start in Denver, Colorado, home of what seems the longest and best IR rivalry outside elite AFL-GAA, involving the Denver Bulldogs and Denver Gaels. Both clubs, faced with the tyranny of distance (the Gaels travel 1,000 miles to Chicago to compete), have for 7 years played IR matches. Despite this the clubs are strong contenders in the NAGAA and the USAFL both winning national titles in recent years, and so in a sense their IR matches could be called the clash of champions.

Ciaran Dwyer, chairman of the Denver Gaels, explains:

"The Denver Gaels GAA club and the Denver Bulldogs Aussie Rules club have many years history of games and friendship.

The games are always fiercely contested and closely fought although the Bulldogs have historically had the edge in results and 2004 was the first year that the Gaels came out on top. Until this year the typical game involved the Gaels establishing early leads which would be eroded in the 3rd and 4th quarter when the Bulldogs' superior fitness and strength would come through. 2004 saw the Gaels finish stronger and win the game with just a few points to spare.

Both clubs have also had players playing for both teams in National Championships. In 2002 Jason O'Connor of the Gaels made the Bulldogs first team and won a National title. 2004 saw the Gaels having the honor of hosting the North American GAA finals in Colorado and Jimbo Baldwin and Bruce Durrell of the Bulldogs both had storming displays for the Gaels in the finals.

So long may the IR games continue and both clubs enjoy the competitive camraderie that surrounds the series of annual games."