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Rethinking St. Patrick's Day: Anything goes in Gaelic football

Kickin' it Gaelic style

If you want to check out Gaelic football, as an observer or a potential player, the team runs a boot camp followed by training at 6:45 p.m. Tuesdays at Glencoe Park, 5300 Martel Ave., Dallas. You can take the boot camp two times for free. If you continue, they ask you to join the club for $75 a year. For a schedule of games and other activities, go to dallasgaa.com.

Posted 9:41am on Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2012

For those who really want to get closer to the Irish experience this year, put down the green beer and pick up the white ball.

Because Ireland has its own brand of pigskin: Gaelic football.

The sport has roots in medieval times and is now the most popular game on the Emerald Isle. It looks like a blend of soccer, Australian rules football, rugby and basketball. In other words, you can use hands and feet, kicks and bounces to get the round ball down the 140-meter (153-yard) field to score.

And you don't have to go to Dublin to partake. Dallas' Fionn MacCumhaill Football Club -- part of the larger Dallas Gaelic Athletic Association -- was formed two years ago by six guys who just wanted to have a set place to play. Today, the club (pronounced in English as "Finn McCool" and named after a character in Irish mythology) has mushroomed into six teams and roughly 130 participants, including a women's team and a team for that other Irish sport, hurling.

"We just wanted to form a community around Gaelic sports and promote the culture a bit, " says co-founder Emmett Long, an Irish immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for 12 years.

While New York is the capital of Gaelic sports in North America, Long says interest in Gaelic football is taking off throughout the South and Southwest. There are now 112 football clubs in the U.S. and Canada, including teams in San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Albuquerque, New Orleans and Little Rock. And he estimates that more than half of the players in Dallas have little connection to Ireland.

"The game appeals to Americans," he says. "It's high-scoring, you use hands and feet, and it combines speed, physicality and coordination. And it's not a complicated game."

No doubt also appealing to some is that, while there can be body contact when the ball is knocked out of a player's hand, there's none of the full-on tackling of rugby, gridiron or Aussie rules.

For Long, though, Gaelic football's allure is simple. "It's just a fun, fit game," he says.

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