Albany Rebels bring Irish sports to the capital region

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At times, the Albany Rebels Gaelic football scrimmage seemed to turn into a football game. At other times it was more like basketball or football.

One of Ireland’s most beloved sports, Gaelic football may seem inscrutable to those who haven’t heard of it.

“If they see (the ball) first they think it’s volleyball, or they think we’re a football team or something,” said the Rebels’ Gaelic football coach , Ryan Moloney. “Even my phone automatically corrects it to ‘garlic football’ half the time.”

According to the Gaelic Athletic Association, there are over 2,200 clubs in Ireland and another 400 around the world, spread out wherever Irish immigrants have settled, including the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, China and mainland Europe.

In Gaelic football, players can advance the ball – which looks like a volleyball, but is heavier – by carrying, bouncing, kicking, passing (similar to an underhand serve in volleyball) and solo (by returning the ball to oneself). Teams can score by kicking the ball into a net or kicking it or passing it by hand over a crossbar.

The Rebels, who train at Green Island, also field a hurling team. Hurling is similar to Gaelic football, but is played with paddles – hurleys – and a ball that looks like a baseball. The Gaelic Athletic Association governs both sports.

Justin Finning described hurling as “all sports rolled into one. It’s a bit like baseball, a bit like lacrosse, a bit like hockey.

Because hurling and Gaelic football combine a wide variety of different skills, from running and kicking to receiving and passing, “there are a lot of skills that are really translatable with American sports,” Cillian said. Flavin.

Flavin is one of the founding members of the Albany Rebels. The club started 10 years ago when Flavin, who grew up in Ireland, connected with an American who wanted to start a local chapter through the Albany Hibernian Hall.

During its early years, the team struggled to attract members, especially when it had reached the limits of word of mouth.


“After maybe three or four years, we found our bearings and have always had a full team ever since,” Flavin said.

The Rebels gained a hurling team last year, absorbing the Albany Hurling Club, which Finning founded with a few friends.

“I find it hard to say that I really started a team, because it never really became a team. It was always just us hitting it on a Saturday morning. It really wasn’t a team until ‘to this year, officially,’ Finning said.

“It’s also icing on the cake for the football team because we’ve signed more players for everyone,” said hurling coach Tim Gerrish.

Gaelic football and hurling are strictly amateur sports. Even in Ireland, where matches draw huge crowds, athletes aren’t paid to play.

“To me, there is no greater sport in the world because of its purity,” said Damon Margida, treasurer of the Midwest GAA, to which the Rebels belong.

The Rebels train weekly on Wednesday nights during the season, which begins in the spring and ends in the early fall. The team spends eight or nine weekends traveling to games, Moloney estimated, and practices indoors during the offseason.

The GAA gives grants to American teams with the aim of developing the sport, and the Rebels have taken the opportunity to buy equipment to lend to people who want to try it.

Most of the approximately 30 active members of the Rebels have some sort of Irish heritage, although the team welcomes everyone regardless of background.

Sport is of particular importance to Flavin, who met his wife in the United States through an internship program between University College Cork and the College of Saint Rose. He started playing Gaelic football and hurling when he was 5 years old and helped his father coach children’s teams growing up.

“It’s really the closest thing to home,” he said of the Rebels. “That’s something I would do there.”

Moloney said that whatever the reason members join the team, the social aspect usually keeps them coming back.

“It’s as much a social team as it is a sports one. It’s a good group of guys,” he said.

This camaraderie also extends to the other teams.

As members of the Midwest GAA, the Rebels play against teams in places like Syracuse, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. They also travel to Montreal and New York.

“As soon as the game is over, we all go to the home team’s sponsored bar afterwards, and we all hang out and talk. So we’ve made a lot of connections with people, teams and other cities” , Moloney said.

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