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October 2001

Good Sport

Paul Larkin–sharing the excitement of Gaelic football with Munich

Gaelic football. It’s part soccer, part rugby and part handball. At first glance, it appears as if neither the players nor the umpires could quite agree on what sport to play—so they just set off with each doing his own thing. It doesn’t change much with a second look either. Energetic, yes. Spectacular, undoubtedly. But it remains a chaotic hybrid.

“Well, that’s not the way we view it,” says Paul Larkin, vice chairman of the recently formed München Colmcilles Gaelic Athletic Association. “We think of it as taking the best elements of other codes and combining them to create a challenging, fast-flowing game. We believe you should be able to do more than simply kick a ball along the ground. With all due respect to soccer players, I would say Gaelic is a more ‘manly’ game because it requires total body skills to win the ball, keep hold of it or to tackle to win it back. In comparison, soccer players tend to look dead from the waist up.”

Although most assume that Gaelic football is a modern invention, its origins predate recorded history. The earliest references to it and the other Irish sport of hurling were made in the 12th century. Gaelic football was finally formally codified in 1884, when some of the more ferocious aspects of the game were restricted.

Larkin, 28, a senior systems design engineer with Fairchild Dornier, is respected in the local Munich Irish community because of his Gaelic football skills. In 1997, the short, solid center-halfback stepped on to the turf of Dublin’s famous Croke Park before 50,000 people and played a key position in the Crossmaglen Rangers’ All-Ireland victory. No greater honor can be won for a local club and the win was all the more impressive because Crossmaglen, a small village, has a population of some 1,500 inhabitants.

The formation of München Colmcilles Club came about after Larkin, who left Ireland to advance his engineering career following the All-Ireland victory, moved from Berlin to Munich two years ago. On arrival he met fellow Irishmen Niall McCorley and Angus McGovern, two fanatical Gaelic footballers, and the group began having a casual kick in the English Garden. Because the casual kick rekindled their desire to play, the next logical step was to form a sporting club, which they did early this year.

Colmcille (Gaelic for St. Columba) was a tempestuous Irish monk who spread the word of Christianity in the sixth century AD. The club chose the name because of the symbolic link to the monks who founded the city of Munich. And then there is the subtext of fiery missionary zeal. “Many Irish monks traveled throughout Europe in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries preaching Christianity. They also brought an educational system with them, and historians speak about how the Irish ‘saved’ civilization in Europe. That’s a view some of us are proud to adopt—and continue by introducing Gaelic football to the Continent,” Larkin says, chuckling.

The first public appearance of München Colmcilles was at a European tournament in Luxembourg. While lacking match practice, the team managed to come fourth (out of ten teams) after defeating the reigning premiers and losing to the eventual winners on the last kick of the ball. “They didn’t expect us to be very good, but you see we had the hunger. We hadn’t been playing, so we came out like hounds out of the traps going after a hare. We surprised a few teams.” At the next tournament in Brussels, the team came third. The team is currently preparing for their next tournament, to be held in the Hague in mid-October. Larkin, who is recovering from a leg injury sustained in Luxembourg, is convinced they’ll win this one. “As far as we are concerned, we’re going for this one. We’ve been training hard and there’s no stopping us—we’re going to win,” he says, his eyes gleaming with determination.

For Larkin, the creation of the Colmcilles has been important in creating a greater bond with Munich. While he enjoyed living in Berlin, he admits he was terribly homesick, especially in the first few months. “After finishing my second year in Berlin, I thought I’d try one other place and came to Munich and, with the formation of the Colmcilles, it’s like we created a little piece of Ireland here. I love the game and can’t imagine not playing or watching it. Having the Colmcilles here eases the desire to return,” sighs Larkin.

“Every time I return home, the lads ask when I’m coming back for good. ‘There’s a place for you on the [Crossmaglen] team,’ they say. But I’m not ready to leave yet. I’m more than happy to stay in Munich for now.”

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