On a random Wednesday last spring, Emily Todd was invited to play football. She assumed when her friend Pat asked her to join him at Tobey Park, at the very least, she’d meet some new people and get some exercise, but when she got there it wasn’t what she’d pictured.
I get out on the field. All these guys were in soccer socks and cleats and really short shorts and I was like ‘This is not football.’ Maybe he meant European football, soccer…but it wasn’t that either. I was like ‘What the hell is going on?’
It was Emily’s introduction to the Memphis Gaelic Athletic Association, and they were playing Gaelic football, a traditional Irish sport described as a cross between soccer and basketball. “When you see it, you know it’s not a sport you’ve seen before. The first 15 minutes, it is kind of a cluster, but you fall in love with it instantly. It took me one practice and I kept coming back.”
If jumping into something completely unfamiliar sounds intimidating, Melvin Purdy, a senior at the University of Memphis, says that his first practice with Memphis GAA was reassuring.
“Everyone was very easy-going and patient as far as teaching the sport, especially since a majority of us were pretty much newbies. The great, genuine personalities of everyone is what hooked me.”
Melvin and Emily joined the GAA and now serve on the board leading the recruiting efforts. If you want to switch up your routine by learning new sports, exploring Irish culture, and making some cool friends along the way, you’re invited to check out one of the upcoming weekly practices with Memphis GAA.
The Memphis GAA is now preparing for its fall hurling co-ed pub league which will begin in late September. Hurling is said to have a history dating back more than 3,000 years, and has roots in Irish mythology. The sport has elements of field hockey and lacrosse and also involves skills from baseball and soccer.
There are weekly general league practices up until the season begins. Players will be drafted by team captains onto one of the four pub teams named for league sponsors — Brass Door, Celtic Crossing, Majestic Grille, and Murphy’s Public House. Memphis Made Brewing is also a sponsor.
The teams will play each other in a series of Sunday matches through December, and then will participate in a tournament. They also play regional matches with teams from Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, and Orlando.
In addition to learning two of Ireland’s most popular sports, the league also focuses on incorporating other aspects of Irish culture, whether it’s songs, dances, or counting in Gaelic while stretching, and they work closely with the Memphis Irish Society.
Emily says that the league has grown into a kind of family. They usually grab pints after games and practices, and they often gather at Celtic Crossing on Sunday mornings to watch international matches. She says they’re adamant about getting to know each other and welcome everyone who wants to give it a try.
We welcome and embrace with open arms. We want them fully to be a part of it and enjoy it as much as possible. There’s no kind of discrimination to any walk of life. I want to share what we love. I’ve come to love Gaelic football and hurling and the Gaelic Athletic Association, and it really has become an integral part of my life. It’s a family. You should come out.