Gaelic Australian football

Gaelic football and Australian Rules football teams don’t have much international competition. So they decided to play each other instead.

International Rules football
Peter Saxon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Football has a lot of funny variants and alternatives around the world, from American gridiron to Canadian gridiron to rugby (at least six different kinds) to futsal to sand football, and on and on and on. Given the huge spread of these variants, it can be difficult for some of the smaller codes to get some good international play.

Take Australian Rules football. It’s a pretty funny sport, involving an oval pitch, an oval ball, four-post goals, lots of jumping, tackling, and extremely tight shorts. It’s very popular in Australia but not played professionally outside that country. In fact, Australia’s Australian Rules football team is not allowed to compete in the Australian Football International Cup because their experience and skill level far outweighs any other nation.

Gaelic football is played primarily in Ireland. It involves a rectangular pitch, a round ball, two-post goals, kicking, carrying, punching, basketball-like bouncing, no tackling, and not-as-tight shorts. Gaelic football in its current form has been played in Ireland for more than a hundred years, and is similar enough to Australian Rules football that their origins may be entangled – either Gaelic football making its way to Australia or Australian Rules football making its way to Ireland via New Zealand.

However these two sports evolved, both countries have observed that they bear some important similarities: neither has the offside rule, for example, and both allow for kicking and carrying the ball. In the 1980s, Australian Rules football teams began importing Gaelic football players (the so-called “Irish experiment”). It has proven to be most successful. In a similar fashion, conversations began in the 1960s about having some kind of cross-code match – a chance for Ireland and Australia to put their national sports into international competition. There was just one problem: whose rules do you use? An oval field or a rectangular one? An oval ball or a round one? How tight would the shorts be?!?

The result was a new, hybrid code: International Rules football. It incorporates aspects of both Australian and Gaelic football, and has been played semi-regularly since 1984. The field shape and ball are Gaelic, but the goals are Australian and tackling is allowed. So, I imagine, every player is in for some kind of surprise when they try it out. Surprisingly, Australia and Ireland have both been about equally successful in this International Rules series so far.

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