The referee blows the whistle and throws the ball in the air as two players jump and struggle for possession. Grabbing the white football, one player runs forward bouncing it onto the grass before using her palms to strike the ball to her teammate who catches the ball and kicks it long towards the goalposts.
The game appears to be an amalgamation of elements borrowed from football, rugby and volleyball; but this is Gaelic football, a sport with more than 100 years of history that is slowly gaining traction in Singapore.
At its inception in 1997, the Singapore Gaelic Lions (SGL) had only a men’s team with 12 members. Today, the SGL has close to 300 registered members and has an average of about 50 players coming together every Sunday morning to practice at Dempsey Field.
“We have a very diverse squad, it’s not just exclusive to Irish people. It’s open to every nationality,” Amy Bowler, SGL communications director, told Yahoo Singapore.
“Very often (people find out about SGL) through word of mouth, people feel encouraged to come down just to learn a bit more about the game and what it means,” Bowler added.
SGL’s member roll-call reads like a list of United Nations member countries, with players hailing from countries such as the United States, South Africa, Malaysia and Singapore.
The game is played on a field similar to that used in football but the goalposts are slightly different. The crossbar is positioned at a height of 2.5m and teams earn one point when the ball is kicked over a crossbar and three points when it is scored into the net.
Players can kick the ball to teammates but throwing is prohibited. To pass the ball using their hands, players must strike the ball with their palms.
Training for the world stage
Earlier this month, SGL pulled off an impressive showing at the 2016 Asian Gaelic Games (AGG) in Shanghai, clinching a total of four titles including the Ladies Champions Cup. The AGG sees teams from countries across Asia – including Thailand, China and India – competing against each other in a variety of Gaelic sports
SGL currently has two Singaporeans players in their ranks, Goh Chu Ming and Christine Wong, who have been playing the sport since 2014.
“What makes me come back every Sunday morning are the players, and of course seeing their commitment to the team makes me want to train with them,” said Goh.
“Because if I were to slack and not be as fit, I may be a burden to them in a game.”
Winning the tournament did not come easy for SGL, especially with many of them starting out without any prior knowledge of the game.
However, Bowler insists that this is not a barrier to participating in the sport. In fact, it could be an advantage.
“It’s probably better if we have players who’ve never played before so we can teach them new things about the sport that they may not know, “ quipped Bowler.
“Everyone has a place in the team here,” she added.
Despite enjoying healthy membership figures, SGL stills hopes to grow in strength – especially in terms of its roster of Singaporean players. Goh has tried bringing her colleagues to trainings to get them to try out the sport.
“They're always very intrigued, very curious to know what the sport is about. So I have to show my colleagues YouTube videos to give them an idea of what it’s about,” said Goh.
“They're curious to know why Singapore has such a big squad, made up of so many nationalities. It’s not something you see a lot in the news,” she added.
SGL hopes that this interest from the Singaporean public will translate into an all-Singaporean team some day.
“We would love to have an all-Singapore player squad some time next year and send them to the Asian Gaelic Games and World Gaelic Games,” said Bowler.