By Mary Wadland
Andrew Healy is passionate about this sport. Ask anyone who has ever had a conversation with him. Healy was born on the southwest coast of Ireland, County Kerry, and in his engaging, quick Irish brogue, he says, “When I was a young kid in Ireland, I believed that everyone in the world played Gaelic football. I didn’t know that there was a difference between soccer and rugby and all these other games.”
The most widely played sport in Ireland is Gaelic Football and is the national sport of Ireland. Loosely, it is a cross between soccer and rugby played with a round ball, slightly smaller and heavier than a soccer ball and played against Rugby-style H shaped goal posts. Points are scored by either putting the ball over the opponent’s bar, as with rugby, for one point, or within the goal posts as with soccer, which is worth three points. Players can kick the ball or handle the ball, but just to make it more difficult, they can’t travel with the ball for more than four steps – players have to bounce it on the ground or drop the ball onto their foot and kick it back into their hand, which, in the game, is called soloing.
For Healy, it is akin to a religion, and as one of its missionaries, he is helping spread the love of the game. In 2008, he started the Michael Collins Gaelic Football Club in Alexandria, named after Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary, soldier and politician who was a leading figure in the early-20th-century Irish struggle for independence. You might have seen them marching in the annual Ballyshaner’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade along King Street and wondered about these guys.
“These guys” are a bunch of attorneys, teachers, engineers, accountant, military, police, students, and construction men between 17 and 33 years old who play between 18 and 20 games from George Washington Middle School to Fairfax County, Baltimore, Montgomery County, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Winston Salem and Philadelphia from March to October every year for their Irish coach and manager Andrew Healy.
The team has had its share of ups and downs. In 2010, they disbanded completely when Healy suffered a life-threatening health crisis. For four years, there was no Gaelic football team in Alexandria, but Healy recovered and fought back. His first goal was to reassemble the team, and in 2014, he did just that.
14 players of today’s 21-man squad are original to that reformed 2014 team. In 2016 they made headlines when they won the North Carolina Gaelic Football Tournament in Raleigh, NC, and this past September 3, the close-knit team captured an important national title, USGAA Finals Junior D football championship.
Healy plans on fielding two teams this coming season, and people are invited to get involved. “Something we would love to do is field a ladies Gaelic Football team,” said Healy. For more information, contact Andrew Healy directly at 703.307.5320