Katrina Wagstaff: From Russia with a love of GAA

GAA World Games double as honeymoon for player on the Russia team

Team Russia and Moscow Shamrocks teammates Laura Connor and Katrina Wagstaff

Team Russia and Moscow Shamrocks teammates Laura Connor and Katrina Wagstaff

 

The GAA World Games double as a honeymoon for one player on the Russian team after she moved her wedding date.

It’s the first time Team Russia GAA is sending a team, and Katrina Wagstaff was not going to miss it. So Wednesday was her wedding day, and she flies to Dublin on Thursday to meet the rest of the team. Her husband joins them as team liaison, with GAA pitches in Waterford standing in for more traditional honeymoon locations.

Many of the 24 ladies football teams competing at the games have a strong Irish contingent, but the Russian team is a mix of local players and British women. Many, including Wagstaff, whose grandfather is from Belfast, are teachers working at international schools in Moscow.

Wagstaff trains with the Moscow Shamrocks, so far the only GAA club in the country. “We trained indoors a lot this year, but last year we were outside a lot more. There were days training outside at minus 10 or minus 12; that was hard. We were kicking snow off the pitch. It’s hard work but it’s worth it. The stadium is far from where we live, myself and Laura Connor travel together and it’s about an hour to get there, and a bit more on the way back.”

The stadium belongs to FC Lokomotiv Moscow, winners of the national soccer league last year. It may be the only Russian stadium to have hosted a Leprechaun Cam. Fans attending a match on March 17th were highlighted on the overhead screen with a friendly leprechaun. On their way in they could try kicking the ball out of their hands at a stand run by Russian and Irish players.

Only in her second year on the roster, Wagstaff says soloing the ball is her biggest challenge, with hand-passing under control thanks to years playing netball in England.

Irish connection

“My grandfather is from Belfast so that’s my Irish connection, but I’ve no direct GAA links, no one who played. My parents think it’s a bit strange I suppose that I’m playing, but they’ve been to see us play and they’re very supportive.

“I look online for gloves, kit and get them delivered to my parents, they bring it all over. They have a shopping list; gravy and Gaelic things.”

Outside of training the squad meet to watch ladies Gaelic football in Irish bars and Wagstaff’s Youtube list is all games. She jokes there are good teaching jobs available in Moscow – a county player with primary school experience would be a welcome addition.

The team’s first game is a warm-up against the Gaelic4Mothers team at St Brigid’s, Dublin, on Friday.

Team manager of Russia Alan Moore says: “I grew up playing with St Brigid’s, some of the coaches there now were my coaches when I was playing. As soon as I asked if the women could get a game, they said ‘yes, come in’. It’s lovely. I don’t know if we are the newest team competing, but we’re in the coldest part of the world.”

Moore says support from Pat Daly at Croke Park and Gaelic Games Europe has been crucial in launching the club internationally. Set up in 2014 by Mark Barton and Tom English, they fielded their first ladies team in 2017.

They have made a concentrated effort to attract Russian players, with Moore hoping the club can run itself eventually. Their main sponsor is the Katie O’Shea pub run by Steve Conway, but local businesses are starting to pay attention. And ,yes, the Leprechaun Cam helped.

Hen party

Wagstaff, meanwhile, is only thinking about the games. And the wedding. Her hen party in Dublin last week included an impromptu Gaelic kickabout but no injuries as she had promised to show up free of bruises for the photographs.

“I only realised how competitive I am when I started playing. The idea that I’m playing at this international level in Gaelic is amazing. If we can win a game that would be what we’re hoping for; we’re against some established teams from Australia and Canada. We’re small and relatively new – if we can win a game that would be an achievement. A start.”

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