Irish (Gaelic) Football

Irish Football

gaelic_football-150x150Gaelic football (Irish: Peil or Caid ), commonly referred to as “football“, “Gaelic” or “GAA (‘gah’)”, is a form of football played mainly in Ireland. It is the most popular sport in Ireland.

It is one of the fastest and most exiting field games in the world. Action is fast and furious, and play is physical. The skills of the game are a combination of soccer, basketball, and American football with the physical aspect of rugby.

Gaelic football is played by teams of 15 on a rectangular grass pitch with H-shaped goals at each end. The primary object is to score by pushing the ball through the goals. The team with the highest score at the end of the match wins.

Players advance the ball up the field with a combination of carrying, soloing (dropping and then toe-kicking the ball upward into the hands), kicking, and hand-passing to their team-mates.

Gaelic football is one of four native Irish sports run by the GAA, the largest and most popular organization in Ireland. It has strict rules on player amateurism and the pinnacle of the sport is the inter county All-Ireland Football Final. The game is believed to have descended from ancient Irish football known as caid which date back to 1537, although the modern game took shape in 1887.


Rules of the Playing Field


The pitch is of grass and rectangular, stretching 130–145 meters long and 80–90 meters wide. There are H-shaped goalposts at each end with a net on the bottom section. The goal posts are the same as on a rugby pitch with the crossbar lower than the rugby ones and a little higher than the soccer ones. The same pitch is used for hurling; the GAA, which organizes both sports, decided this to facilitate dual usage. Lines are marked at distances of 13m, 20m and 45m from each end-line. Shorter pitches and smaller goals are used by under-13s.


At intercounty level, Gaelic football matches last for 70 minutes, divided into two halves. At club level, the game is sixty minutes long.


Teams consist of fifteen players (a goalkeeper, two corner backs, a full back, three half backs, two mid fielders, three half forwards, two corner forwards and a full forward) plus up to fifteen substitutes, of which five may be used. Each player is numbered 1–15, starting with the goalkeeper, who must wear a different colored jersey.


The actual field line positions used in Gaelic football are as follows:


The Ball


The game is played with a round leather football, similar to a soccer ball, but heavier and slightly smaller. The ball has horizontal stitching rather than the hexagon and pentagon panels often used on soccer balls, and similar in appearance to a standard volleyball. It may be kicked or hand passed. A hand pass is not a punch but rather a strike of the ball with the side of the closed fist, using the knuckle of the thumb.

The ball made by Irish company O’Neill’s being used for a Gaelic football matches.

The following are considered technical fouls (“fouling the ball”):

• Picking the ball directly off the ground
• Throwing the ball
• Going four steps without releasing, bouncing or soloing the ball. (Soloing involves kicking the ball into one’s own hands)
• Bouncing the ball twice in a row
• Hand passing the ball over an opponent’s head, then running around him to catch it
• Hand passing a goal (the ball may be punched into the goal from up in the air, though)
• Square ball, an often controversial rule: If, at the moment the ball enters the small rectangle, there is already an attacking player inside the small rectangle, then a free out is awarded.


If the ball goes over the crossbar, a point is scored and a white flag is raised by an umpire. If the ball goes below the crossbar, a goal, worth three points, is scored, and a green flag is raised by an umpire. The goal is guarded by a goalkeeper. Scores are recorded in the format {goal total}-{point total}. For example, the 1991 All-Ireland semi-final finished: Meath 0-15 Roscommon 1-11. Thus Meath won “fifteen points to one-eleven” (1-11 being worth 14 points).



The level of tackling allowed is more robust than in soccer, but less than rugby. The tackling rule has been criticized for being too vague.

Shoulder-charging and wresting or slapping the ball out of an opponent’s hand is permitted, but the following are all fouls:

• using both hands to tackle
• pushing an opponent
• deliberately striking an opponent
• pulling an opponent’s jersey
• blocking a shot with the foot
• sliding tackles
• touching the goalkeeper when he is inside the small rectangle

Restarting Play

The match begins with the referee throwing the ball up between the four fielders:

• After an attacker has put the ball wide of the goals, the goalkeeper may take a kick out from the ground at the edge of the small square. All players must be beyond the 20m line.
• After an attacker has scored, the goalkeeper may take a kick out from the ground from the 20m line. All players must be beyond the 20m line and outside the semicircle.
• After a defender has put the ball wide of the goals, an attacker may take a “45” from the ground on the 45m line level with where the ball went wide.
• After a player has put the ball over the sideline, the other team may take a sideline kick at the point where the ball left the pitch. It may be kicked from the ground or the hands.
• After a player has committed a foul, the other team may take a free kick at the point where the foul was committed. It may be kicked from the ground or the hands.
• After a defender has committed a foul inside the large rectangle, the other team may take a penalty kick from the ground from the center of the 13m line. Only the goalkeeper may guard the goals.
• If many players are struggling for the ball and it is not clear who was fouled first, the referee may choose to throw the ball up between two opposing players.




A Gaelic football match is watched over by eight officials:

• The referee
• Two linesmen
• Sideline official/Standby linesman (inter-county games only)
• Four umpires (two at each end)

The referee is responsible for starting and stopping play, recording the score, awarding frees and booking and sending off players.

Linesmen are responsible for indicating the direction of line balls to the referee.

The fourth official is responsible for overseeing substitutions, and also indicating the amount of stoppage time (signaled to him by the referee) and the players substituted using an electronic board.

The umpires are responsible for judging the scoring. They indicate to the referee whether a shot was: wide (spread both arms), a 45m kick (raise one arm), a point (wave white flag), square ball (cross arms) or a goal (wave green flag).

All officials are also required to indicate to the referee, foul play or other misdemeanor’s he may have missed, but unfortunately this is a rare occurrence. The referee can over-rule any decision by a linesman or umpire.

Dissatisfaction with officials is common in Gaelic football. Referees are often criticized for leniency and inconsistency (particularly with regard to the “square ball” rule, sending players off, and dissent), not seeing fouls, and playing an inordinate amount of stoppage time at the end of games (said to be hoping the losing team gets a draw). A common (but untrue) urban legend refers to a referee who was locked in the boot of a car after a Wicklow club game by unimpressed players. A macho attitude, which is similar to that which prevails in Australian rules football, does nothing to enhance the image of the game which strives to attract young people in preference to soccer and rugby where discipline is more rigidly applied.

Gaelic Football