Naghten Street paving way in Columbus
To those watching at the Columbus Park of Roses, the sport must look entirely confusing. The players hit, dribble and kick the ball at a frenzied pace, looking to score in a net or through the goalposts attached to it.
The men play for Naghten Street, the city's only Gaelic football club, which was formed in 2011 and kicked off its inaugural season this summer.
The national sport of Ireland, Gaelic football combines elements of football, rugby, soccer, basketball and volleyball into one, frenetic game.
"It's a sport you play with both your hands and your feet, and you use a round ball," said Steve Pickett, a club founder. "Pretty much anything goes in that sense. You're using your entire body."
"I would say it's soccer with hands," said Patrick Thompson, another club founder. "You line up in a soccer formation, where there are a lot of the same movements. Then there's also a little football element, when you're kicking through the uprights. It's a variation."
Gaelic football typically features 13 players on a side. Players can run with the ball, but they must make a move every four steps. That could mean a dribble, a quick touch to their foot or a pass to a teammate by bumping the ball with a fist. Any ball in the air is live, with players jumping to reach it at its highest point to gain possession for their team.
The local club was named for the Columbus street once known as "Irish Broadway" because so many early immigrants settled there. Its roster is comprised mostly of players in their 20s and early 30s.
"These are people who were really active athletes in high school and college," Pickett said. "Our draw is the level of competition and seriousness. It's a step up from intramurals."
Gaelic football features two ways to score: a strike with a foot into the goal is worth three points and a kick between the goalposts is worth one point. Defenders can strip the ball and are allowed to block kicks with their hands or engage in shoulder-to-shoulder contact.
"The thing that's hard is just the rules," player Mike Wright said. "Getting used to the rules, it's a little bit of a learning curve."
Columbus has had an Australian rules football club for more than five years, but the city was the largest in the country without a Gaelic team until one summer ago, Pickett said. He and others had played for out-of-town teams and had grown tired of traveling.
"Guys didn't want to drive to Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Cleveland just to play," he said. "It got to the point where, if we're going to recruit in Columbus, it was difficult to ask them to travel."
With a club formed, Naghten Street spent time, and still does, searching for players via social media. The club currently has about 30 players.
"We have done a lot online. We have a decent website and a Facebook page," Pickett said. "Really the biggest thing was just recruiting friends and friends of friends. Columbus is a good market, because there are so many college and young professionals. I think there is a really good opportunity."
Although there still is some travel, the club already has had a positive showing on the field, competing in several 7-on-7 tournaments in Washington, D.C., and Cleveland. On July 12, the team played an international rules game against the Jackaroos, Columbus' Australian rules squad, and won 48-39 to improve its record to 7-2.
Thompson is looking forward to the rest of the season.
"(Saturday, July 28) is when we are going to our first actual 13-on-13 (matchup) in Cleveland," he said. "Then we are going to host one down here on Aug. 4 during the Dublin Irish Festival."
Although the games are anything but calm, the Naghten Street schedule is not overly demanding. The team practices on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings, and players make trips to various pubs after games.
Thompson hopes the uniqueness and competitiveness of the game will continue to draw players to the club.
"We're just trying to build and get as many guys out to try the game, and keep trying to expand within Columbus," he said. "We're really looking for anyone who wants to play. It's a combination of everything, so anyone is welcome to come out and play."
For more information, visit www.naghtenstreet.com.