David Hennessy explores some of the famous faces who’ve popped up in GAA in the UK
Elly O’Keeffe, who has played with Fr Murphy’s Ladies, did us proud with her recent turn on The Voice.
After wowing at her audition, she was victorious in her battle round and was unfortunate to get eliminated before the live shows.
It got us thinking about how some colourful characters have graced GAA clubs in London and elsewhere in Britain at one time or another.
Inspired by Elly’s recent turn on The Voice, we have put together a team of some of the more surprising and interesting individuals who have been involved with GAA teams over here.
They include Hollywood icons, Premier League stars, well known TV presenters and mutli-million selling musicians.
We think we’ve assembled a pretty good team, which includes Chris O’Dowd between the sticks, two tough talking Mancunian brothers to toughen up our midfield and even a couple of All Blacks there to mix it as well.
But perhaps you know of some that we’ve missed off, who would be good additions to ‘our team’.
Ever see Niall Quinn, Richard Harris or Keith Duffy tog out for Kilburn Gaels?
Did Colin Farrell sign for Fulham Irish but spend most of training in a Phone Booth? Or did Daniel Day-Lewis bring his left foot to training with Dulwich Harps?
Does the U2 guitarist get his name from standing on the edge of the square? Or did Beyonce say ‘to the left, to the left’ when asked where she wanted to play for Parnell’s Ladies?
Tir Chonaill Gaels, London
Patrick Kielty took the job seriously when he became Tir Chonaill Gaels’ Celebrity Bainisteoir in 2008.
The comedian said at the time: “I was asked to do this by a friend of mine who rang me up and said ‘you used to play a bit of GAA, you’re living in London, fancy getting involved in this?’
“I was assured I’d be a GAA God after this, so I said, ‘No problem!’”
But Patrick wasn’t a token appointment – he was a sub on the Down minor team that won the All-Ireland in 1987.
TCG’s Stevie McLoughlin remembers a great buzz around the Greenford club when the TV presenter arrived.
“It was great to see a man come in who knew a bit about the GAA. He had played it himself so he knew what was involved, and he really did enjoy his time. He had some great ideas,” he recalled.
Patrick’s a proven winner at managerial level, having guided TCG to Celebrity Bainisteoir success in 2008
Every football dressing room has a joker, but not many have one that goes on to have Hollywood rolling in the aisles.
Now a global household name, Chris O’Dowd togged out a few times in midfield for London side Garryowen in 2007, while working towards his big break in television.
The star of Bridesmaids, Moone Boy and Get Shorty, O’Dowd also once played in goal for Roscommon in the 1997 Minor Connacht final.
“I loved that Connacht final day,” he told the Roscommon Herald. “I played a couple of games the year before at midfield, and I think it speaks a lot of my interest draining from the GAA at the time that the next year I was ‘keeper.
“I was a bad trainer; I think my mind was in other places at the time. But I did really enjoy it. I loved the camaraderie of it.”
He plays enforcer Miles Daly in Get Shorty and we want him to be just as uncompromising when he minds the net
Right corner back
Neasden Gaels, London
Niall Breslin, former lead singer of The Blizzards, solo performer and a former coach on The Voice of Ireland, announced to this paper in 2012 that he was transferring to Neasden Gaels.
Breslin played football for Westmeath at Minor, Under 21 and senior levels and won a Leinster Under 21 Championship in 2000.
But he was also a strong rugby player and was picked up by Leinster. He played 14 times for the province alongside Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.
He travelled to Australia for the Under 21 World Cup, but was plagued by injuries and decided to give up rugby.
“With every game you go out to play, you have this pressure – what if I get injured? How can you play properly with that?,” he said.
“And then when I was injured, I became a second class-citizen. I thought, ‘F**k this, I’ve got something more in life that I’m good at’.”
Solid GAA credentials
Bernie McCahill/Zinzan Brooke
Full back / Left corner back
St Brendan’s, London
It was Bernie McCahill who introduced Zinzan Brooke to Gaelic football and the Auckland Gaels GAA Club long before their international rugby days. They’d go on to rack up nearly 100 appearances for the All Blacks.
The All Blacks pair added their steel to the St. Brendan’s team in London in 2000.
Former London player Tony Murphy remembers marking Zinzan at Ruislip while playing in a surreal mid-week game for St Clarets against Brendan’s.
He recalled putting a shoulder in on the All Black. “He just turned to me and smiled, and said: “I don’t think we’re not going to have any of that are we?
“I said, ‘I think you’re right’.”
Brooke even played GAA while also playing for the All Blacks, and was picked on an Australasian All Stars team in midfield with Jim Stynes.
Brooke once togged out in a GAA match before a preparation game that saw him pitted against Wayne Shelford, his rival for the All Blacks’ number eight jersey.
“I wasn’t choosing one over the other, I just loved doing it, but then it was different times,” he said.
In 1998 Brooke was coaching Keith Wood and Gary Halpin at Harlequins when the two Irish lads produced a hurley and sliotar. Brooke struggled to hit the ball.
Wood noted just how frustrated Brooke was becoming.
The following day, Brooke asked his Irish colleagues if they had once again brought the hurl and sliotar.
They produced the equipment to see Brooke smash the ball 60 yards with his first swing leaving both Wood and Halpin gobsmacked. “How the??” “I practised last night until dark,” Brooke said.
They’re both All Blacks – what more do you want?!
Right half back
Tir Chonaill Gaels, London
Another celebrity to have graced Tir Chonaill Gaels is Paddy O’Kane, the Northern Irish actor, who is known for his character roles and for often starring in the work of playwright, Owen McCafferty.
Patrick and Owen have also played for the same GAA team. On moving to London, O’Kane joined Tir Chonaill Gaels and enjoyed great success.
Patrick told us in 2014: “I had many a good year with Tir Chonaill Gaels and I’m very grateful for that experience. I felt part of the whole experience of being Irish and in London, it was great.
“We were the first Tir Chonaill Gaels team to win a senior title. We won the London senior championship, the league and the All-British Championship all in one year in 1983, and the club went on to be a major force thereafter.
“I decided to go to university after that and that’s when I started studying drama.”
Patrick’s screen roles include turns in The Fall, The Borgias, Game of Thrones and the most recent series of Doctor Who.
We hear we was good under the high ball and a tough player to have around the middle of the park
St Agnes, London
Capped 45 times for Republic of Ireland, Paddington-born Tony captained Brighton in the 1983 FA Cup final against Manchester United.
However, Tony played Gaelic football at Wembley before soccer took him there, as he played for London against New York in a challenge match alongside his brother Brian.
Tony was also part of the London Under 16 team that won the British Championship in 1972.
Tony came from a big GAA family as his parents were founding members of St. Gabriel’s Hurling Club, and also had links with Moindearg and St. Agnes.
The highlight of his soccer career was undoubtedly that cup final against a United team that included Frank Stapleton, Norman Whiteside and Kevin Moran – also quite the GAA player.
The match finished 2-2, and Brighton were soundly beaten 0-4 in the replay. Tony passed away from cancer in 2013 at the age of 56.
Tony captained the Republic of Ireland 17 times, so no one else is leading our team out. He’s our skipper!
Left half back
Dulwich Harps, London
Known for hits like Written in the Stars and Pass Out, Tinie Tempah (real name Patrick Okogwu) played Gaelic football during his time at St. Paul’s Academy in south-east London.
With links to Dulwich Harps GAA Club, St. Paul’s became the strongest GAA nursery in the capital with teachers such as former Fermanagh player Niall McCann, former London hurler Brian Smyth and current London manager Michael Maher among the staff.
“Yeah, Gaelic football,” Tinie once told Herald.ie. “I had an Irish PE teacher called Mr McCann and so it was part of the curriculum for a little while. I don’t really remember all the rules, but I was alright at it.”
He hits all the right notes for us
Parnell’s ladies, London
As a soccer player, Niamh has earned 90 caps for the Republic of Ireland.
She spent six years with Arsenal before becoming the first Irish woman to lift the Women’s FA Cup at Wembley when Chelsea triumphed in 2015.
She has since enjoyed a stint in France with Bordeaux and has been at Liverpool since 2015.
Niamh is a sister of Gary and Richie Fahey, who were both members of Galway’s 2001 All-Ireland winners. Niamh has also played county football for Galway and won an All-Ireland of her own in 2004.
She makes our team on the back of having won an All Ireland Club with Parnell’s in 2012. They beat Cahir in the final, with Niamh scoring the London team’s second goal in a 2-14 to 1-2 victory.
We’ve put Niamh in midfield, where she might have to run the show if the Gallagher brothers turn out to not be as tough as they make out!
We all know Noel Gallagher has played Croke Park as a musician, but long before anyone had even heard of Oasis, he also appeared there with Oisin GAA Club.
Indeed, all the Gallagher brothers played underage for the Manchester club.
“It’s a tough game,” said Noel once in an interview. “Physical contact is allowed and the Irish don’t give a f**k.”
Talking on the Late Late Show in 2012, Noel explained how the Dublin trip came from his team’s success in Lancashire.
“We were Under 14, Under 16 and Under 18 champions consecutively and we came to Dublin to play exhibition matches against Dublin teams. It holds about 92,000 and there were about four people when we played.
“We were hammered but there is a photograph of me scoring a point at Croke Park.”
Reflecting on his GAA career, Noel says: “I’d gone as far as I could take that team. I’m not an athlete, too much hard work goes into that. I enjoyed it at the time.
“If I knew the All-Ireland final was on, I’d probably watch it…..I’ve seen a few down the years. It’s quite exciting.”
Noel and Liam only get one shirt between them, because we all know they won’t be in the same room together now!
Right half forward
North London Shamrocks, London
He’s usually centre stage but Coronas frontman Danny O’Reilly, a former Dublin minor, was nearer to centre forward when he helped North London Shamrocks to an intermediate
London county championship in 2014.
Danny scored 1-2 as his team beat St Brendan’s 3-12 to 0-9 to reach senior.
Playing at right half forward Danny displayed some of the skill that saw him play Minor for Dublin in 2003 and senior level football with Templeogue Synge Street.
Living in Highbury at the time, he was cheered on at Ruislip by his Coronas bandmates.
Danny told us in 2014: “I was, I was very very happy [with the win]. As I say, I live with the boys, work with the boys, it’s nice to have a break from them and joining the Shamrocks was the perfect thing for me.
“I was missing my GAA, hadn’t played in a few years and got back into playing football.
“I don’t know how busy I’m going to be next year so I’m not sure I’m going to be able to play again but I was delighted to be able to play a bit this year and get back into it.
“It’s a great club and they made me feel very welcome.”
Danny joined the club in 2013, and prior to that championship title success had helped Shamrocks win its first-ever trophy in 2014 when it lifted the Murphy Cup. Danny contributing a point in a 1-9 to 1-6 win over Tara.
Another one with proven GAA pedigree
Roger Casements, Coventry
The Birmingham City midfielder played for his local GAA Club, Roger Casements and participated in the annual Feile na nGael.
Daniel began his career at Aston Villa before moving to Arsenal. He spent three years at the Emirates and has also had a successful stint in the Netherlands.
He has represented both England and the Republic of Ireland, his grandparents’ country, at youth international level before declaring for Ireland in 2019.
His grandfather, Tom Crowley from Tramore in Co. Waterford, was a member of the Warwickshire 1973 All-Ireland junior winning team.
Daniel has said: “Ireland was always the team I supported at international level. I was young at the time but I remember crying my eyes out when Spain won that penalty shoot-out at the 2002 World Cup.
“England is a country I love because I grew up there and my friends live there. But I never owned an England kit.”
He knows where the back of the net is
Left half forward
Fr Murphy’s, London
Fr Murphy’s found their Voice with Elly but you might not know the club also has The X Factor.
He is famed for saying ‘your Saturday night starts here’ but Sundays once began for the well-known television presenter with a trip to the GAA pitch, to cheer on his father Sean who played for the London club.
Sean played with Wexford and actually missed out on an All-Ireland medal, as the yellowbellies went all the way the year he moved to London.
“There were many days he (Dermot) came out with us. We would pick Seanie up and he was in the back of the van, great entertainment,” remembered Jimmy Howlin of Fr Murphy’s.
“Even at that stage he was a showman, he would sing songs. You would have known he was destined for the telly, alright.
“Obviously his schedule is very busy nowadays, but he came to two of my daughters’ christenings. As he’s getting busier, you see less and less of him, ya know. But he does (keep in touch).”
We’re relying on Dermot to bring The X-Factor to our team
Right corner forward
Fulham Irish, London
His legendary father once played soccer for Fulham and Calum chose then county champions Fulham Irish when he wanted to familiarise himself with GAA ahead of his participation in Celebrity Bainisteoir in 2012.
The son of the Manchester United legend George joined the defending London champions where he observed what the game was all about, with RTE cameras present on one occasion.
His time with Fulham was clearly of benefit – Calum went on to win Celebrity Bainisteoir.
Fulham’s Colm McArdle said at the time: “He was completely engrossed in it, he wanted to absorb everything I was talking about. He was writing everything down.
“He knew his sports but he didn’t get the degree of the contact. One of our matches was a very hard-hitting game and he was really taken aback by that and it was only then it clicked: ‘Do you know what? I’m gonna love this’.
“He was very enthusiastic, even standing in the pouring rain and getting soaked to the skin.”
We’ve put Calum in the forwards hoping some of his old man’s flair might get us a goal
John Mitchel’s, Birmingham
In his youth, the Aston Villa star – who played Under 21 for Ireland before declaring for England – played with John Mitchel’s and his father Kevin has spoken of how he thinks GAA was important in his son’s development.
Kevin Grealish told Birmingham Live: “He’d run the show playing Gaelic. It really helped him because he was knocked from pillar to post. It’s brutal compared to soccer.
“I told Gordan Cowans (Aston Villa coach) that once. He asked why Jack was so good at expecting tackles and stuff and it was the GAA. It really built up his upper body, players would bounce off him. It’s probably why he’s so strong today.”
He’ll keep the opposing goalkeeper busy, and his marker will know they’ve been in a game
Left corner forward
Fr Murphy’s ladies, London
Well known performer on the London-Irish music scene, Elly recently wowed the legend that is Tom Jones on The Voice.
She had plenty of support from Fr Murphy’s Ladies Football Club and her fellow members of Contraband.
“It’s been insane; I was blown away to be honest because it feels like I haven’t moved away at all the way they’re all getting behind me, they’re just so delighted to see me get through the blind auditions and working with Tom,” she said.
“The whole of west London (have been supportive). Every single pub I’ve played in for the last four years, they had the big screens down. It was like Conor McGregor fighting I’d say.
“Hopefully I can take my songwriting to another level and that’s the whole point.”
Murphy’s tweeted that Elly “turns judges like she turns full backs” and that’s why we have put her in our full forward line
So that’s our team! But if you know of anyone who should have been included, let us know. Email [email protected]