President watches on as Mayo break GAA duck in Pretoria

Michael D Higgins says it is a ‘pleasure’ to see fun Gaelic games provide around the world

South Africa Gael’s Mayo captain Steven Malinga lifts a cup after being presented with it by President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins following a Gaelic football match in Pretoria, South Africa. Photograph: Department of Foreign Affairs Twitter.

South Africa Gael’s Mayo captain Steven Malinga lifts a cup after being presented with it by President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins following a Gaelic football match in Pretoria, South Africa. Photograph: Department of Foreign Affairs Twitter.

 

It was a GAA final like no other. The winning team was of mixed gender, nearly all were black but, and most extraordinarily, all wore Mayo’s red and green and still they won. Is this a record?

They beat a Tyrone team of similar composition, each carrying the legend ‘Lamh Dearg CLG’ on his or her back. As one such Tyrone player said, it was a case of “the red hand with black skin”.

Yes indeed, it was a GAA football final like no other.

And it rained. It was the first rain President Michael D Higgins has seen since he began his visit to Africa two weeks ago. He threw in the ball and the game was on. It was fast, tough, physical and ruthless.

The eventual score belied the skills of either side but winning five points to four probably means the curse that has plagued Mayo since 1951 has been lifted. Free at last.

South Africa Gaels have been in existence since 2010 and its chairman, David Devine, is an engineer from The Curragh in Co Kildare. He has been in South Africa 11 years and works in Johannesburg with Cork-based MC Computer Systems.

“All these children are from the townships of Alexandra and Tembisa,” he said, “they love the game.” Up to 80 take part in their junior leagues with 60 involved at senior level.

Their main sponsor is ESB International. Its business development manager in Africa, Paul Farrell, said: “we’re offering them support but they’re the people who come out every Saturday, organise transport, get the people out here, train them. It’s just giving a little bit back”.

One of today’s Mayo players, Tshepiso Mogapi, studies mechanical engineering at Wits University in Johannesburg and has done vocational work at ESB International’s office in the city.

ESB International also sponsored South Africa Gaels trip to Ireland last March where they played St Vincent’s and St Enda’s in Dublin and St Mary’s in Belfast before stopping off en route home for the Dubai Duty Free Gulf Gaelic Games where they won the Intermediate International Division.

After today’s final, South Africa Gaels Mayo players celebrated in the clubhouse with intoxicating song and dance to such effect even the defeated Tyrone players joined it.

President Higgins thought it “a splendid occasion. What we saw was wonderful but also I have to say what succeeded it in the music and the dancing was magnificent.” He also felt the final had been “a remarkably clean game”.

He continued: “It’s been a fantastic year for the GAA in Ireland, everyone agrees that”.

Since he became President three years ago he’d attended GAA games at “Ruislip in London, here, and I’ve also seen Gaelic games being played in Buenos Aires in Argentina”.

He wanted “as President of Ireland to recognise all those who are doing this wonderful extension of the GAA around the world and to be here in Pretoria and to see what pleasure and fun it is providing for everybody...well it’s just wonderful.”