Ireland's gaelic football final: playing for glory, but not a paycheck
On Sunday, Ireland's attention will be focused on the final match of its most popular sport, gaelic football. But not one of the men on the field will earn wages for playing – it's all amateur.
Tomorrow, 80,000 people will pile into a sports stadium in Dublin to watch the annual culmination of the national football league. But regardless of which team wins, one thing is certain: Neither will get paid.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite being Ireland's most popular sport, gaelic football remains a completely amateur affair. So when County Donegal plays County Mayo in the annual All-Ireland Football Championship on September 23 at Dublin's Croke Park, it will be purely for glory and the Sam Maguire Cup.
Gaelic football's amateur status is the lifeblood of the sport and – according to its organizing body, the Gaelic Athletic Association – the country.
It certainly marks the sport out in a world where multimillion dollar contracts, corporate sponsorship, and battles for broadcast rights dominate the landscape of most spectator sports. Amateur sports tend to be either underfunded minority games or the preserve of the super-rich.
Not so in Ireland. The GAA, which was founded in 1884 to codify and promote native Irish competitions, oversees several amateur sports, including hurling (the fastest field-game in the world) and handball.
And its biggest success has been gaelic football. The sport is not only entirely amateur, organized on a parish, and, at top level, county basis, but also the most popular game in the country. At the time of writing, tickets to the game are on sale on eBay for €1,220 ($1,600).
"I'm ecstatic. I can't wait," says Jordan Cunningham, a fan from the village of Glencolumbkille in County Donegal with tickets to the final.
Mr. Cunningham is a student at Dublin City University and, like many gaelic football fans, plays the sport himself. "At the minute it's all work, so I miss a lot of training but if the opportunity to play for the county came up, I'd grab it with both hands."
Love of the game runs in the family. His father, Martin, is equally enthusiastic. "I've followed football since I was a child, and played it since I was 12," he says. "It's unbelievable Donegal making it to the final. It's lifted everyone so much," he says.
Controversial but popular Irish broadcaster and sports pundit George Hook questions whether the GAA sports can truly be considered amateur, however, noting paid coaches and sponsorship deals for players.