Ciara Kenny

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Oulu Irish Elks vs Helsinki Harps

The most northerly GAA game ever played caught the attention of filmmaker Ronan Browne

Sat, Dec 7, 2013, 00:00


Ronan Browne

Initially the game between Oulu Irish Elks and Helsinki Harps caught my attention because of the significance of the location – the city of Oulu, 200km below the arctic circle, was set to become the most northerly place ever to host a game of Gaelic Football.

As I learned more about the teams and the players, I became intrigued by their individual and collective stories; the training sessions carried out in sub-zero temperatures, the Samoan playing (and excelling) at centre-field for Oulu, and the Helsinki player who built Gaelic Football goalposts in his back garden so he could train as much as possible.

And then, after spending some time with both teams, I was very impressed by their dedication to the sport and their determination to continue playing despite considerable challenges. Even the act of organising a competitive game was a feat in itself. The Elks and the Harps are, at the time of writing, Finland’s only two Gaelic Football teams and this “local” derby involved a journey of some 600km for the Helsinki players – a distance equivalent to that between Mizen Head and Malin Head.

Aside from the sporting aspect, it became apparent to me during filming that the game has brought something else, something less easily-identifiable than the handpass rule or the raising of a green flag for a goal – something thats not written into the rules but still seems to be an inherent part of the game. In Helsinki and Oulu, both sets of players made repeated references to the friends they had made and the social outlet the game has provided for each of them – much the same as it does in towns and villages across Ireland.

Finally, as match-day approached, I was very keen to discover if home advantage, and the enthusiasm of the Elks players – the vast majority of whom were non-Irish and relatively new to Gaelic Football – would be enough to beat the Harps, made up primarily of Irish players familiar with the sport since their schooldays.

The video above is a trailer for the full documentary, which will be posted to this blog on its release next Thursday, December 12th. See for more details. Ronan Browne lives in Jyväskylä with his wife and children. Read his story written for Generation Emigration about feeling welcomed as an Irish person in Finland.