2019 All-Britain Competition poised to be biggest yet
By Damian Dolan
This year’s All-Britain Competition (ABC) is poised to be the biggest yet with up to 2,800 boys and girls expected to take part from schools and clubs across Britain from 11-14th July 2019.
Primary and secondary schools and ladies Gaelic football numbers are all up this year. In 2018, the number of participants was 2,392.
The four-day celebration of Irish culture, incorporating music and dance, as well as Gaelic football, hurling and camogie gets underway on Thursday (11 July) at Tir Chonaill Park in Greenford.
Amongst those in attendance will be GAA President John Horan, President of the Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association Marie Hickey and Ladies Gaelic Football Association CEO Helen O’Rourke.
“It’s fantastic; we’re pleased as a committee that the numbers have increased from last year,” ABC committee chairman Iggy Donnelly told the Irish World.
“Maybe the bug is biting at underage development, and there is no better platform than the ABCs to show it off.
“Everything is in place for this year’s tournament and the weather is set to be good.”
In 2012, the number of participants was approximately 750 as more than 60 GAA clubs from across Britain descended upon west London for the inaugural two-day ABC tournament.
The first-ever ABC had originally been fixed for July of 2012, but rain forced it to be postponed and a new date fixed for a weekend in September. That restricted it to just GAA clubs.
Now in its eighth year, the tournament has gone from strength-to-strength since then, swelled by the introduction of school teams.
“It’s the premier underage competition in Britain. You can’t develop the game in this country without going to the younger people and you need competitions of this nature,” added Donnelly.
“If we can create interest through the ABC, hopefully the older ones will go into the club scene and start playing with different clubs and counties.”
Hertfordshire Community Development Administrator Stephen Lavery has taken over this year from Lloyd Colfer as ABC committee secretary.
Having previously served on the committee for several years, he’s seen first-hand its growing appeal.
“It’s a great competition and for the clubs and schools taking part as well as the coaches and parents – it’s grown to become the highlight of their year. It’s what they aim for,” he said.
“The children all really look forward to it – it’s all they talk about all year.”
He added: “It also highlights the fantastic work that continues to go on around Britain in the schools, both secondary and primary.”
Lavery attributes its growth to how well the tournament is run, the support it’s received from sponsors, the GAA the LGFA and the Irish Government.
“Everybody looks kindly on it because they know how well it’s run, and the clubs love competing against others clubs from around Britain,” he said.
“You don’t get schools travelling the distances that so many of them do unless it’s a well-run tournament, and the kids are well looked after.”
As is now customary, the official ABC launch took place at the Irish Embassy in London last month, hosted by Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK Adrian O’Neill.
Also in attendance were President of the Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association, Marie Hickey, and President of the Provincial Council of Great Britain Paul Foley.
Having attended last year’s ABC, Mr O’Neill spoke of how particularly impressed he was by the diversity of the competition.
He said: “It was fantastic to see so many kids of Irish descent playing GAA games – and it was even better again to see so many kids who were evidently not necessarily of Irish descent playing GAA games.
“The attraction of Gaelic Games is their athleticism, their skill, their vibrancy – its appeal goes beyond the Gael.”
Mr Foley praised the role of the ABC for paving the way for competitions like The Northern Games, which was held for the first time this year in Manchester, and saw 870 children take part.
In May, Hertfordshire also held its largest-ever primary schools competition with more than 500 children playing Gaelic football.
Mr Foley added that the ABCs now represented the culmination of a year’s under-age development work in Britain.
While the bulk of the teams participating in this year’s ABC are from London, Hertfordshire and Warwickshire, Gloucestershire will also be represented.
There will be one secondary school from Yorkshire and another from Manchester, as well as a number of club teams making the journey south from Lancashire.
The cross-community team from Ulster, Cúchulainns GAA, will again be in attendance, this year sending both a boys and a girls team for the very first time.
It promises to be another very special four days.