This afternoon we went to a football game. Actually, here, “football” can mean different things to different people. Almost every time an Irishman says football, he’s referring to Gaelic football, which might best be described for our American readers as a kind of cross between soccer and rugby. The ball is round like a soccer ball, and the players can “pass” the ball by hitting it with their fist, or run so long as they sometimes drop the ball and kick it right back into their hands. I’m really not sure how they do that little drop kick to themselves at a full run but they do. It’s pretty much played only here in Ireland, but it’s thought that Australian rules football may have derived from Gaelic football.

What the rest of the world calls football, the Irish call soccer, just like Americans do. But, since so much of the soccer on television is broadcast from Britain, and so is referred to as football, we can sometimes hear that, too.

Finally, there’s good ol’ American football, with helmets, padding, and a pointy-ended ball, and that’s what we saw today. The Irish American Football League was formed more than two decades ago, and today it has nine teams, including the Cork Admirals.

There are three divisions made up of three teams each, and the winners of each division make it to the playoffs. The two teams with the next best records must play in a wildcard game and the winner becomes the fourth playoff team. Cork finished 6-2 in the regular season, second in their division to the defending champion University of Limerick Vikings, and so had to play the Dublin City University Saints, who finished the regular season 4-4.

We arrived ten minutes before the game started, and were the tenth and eleventh fans there. Eventually another fifteen or twenty people came by and watched at least part of the game. Although the game had been scheduled to be played in a new stadium at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), for some reason the game was actually played on a field next to it, so there was no seating (and no toilets). It’s been a long time since I’ve watched football from the sidelines.

The teams were a bit bigger than high-schoolers, and the quality of play was variable. I can’t throw a football, but I could have done as well as the Saints’ quarterback on most of his shorter passes. For whatever reason, the further downfield he threw, the better his passes looked, but most of his short passes were wobbly lofts to whomever happened to be in the area, regardless of the team. He was hampered by a center who usually skittered the ball along the ground to him instead of hiking it into the air, which I’m sure presents its challenges.

The Admirals outplayed the Saints the whole afternoon. The Cork quarterback was better, and some of the players had real talent. Some, though, had what Amy described as “emerging” talent. Perhaps latent is a better word. They had heart, and perhaps always wanted to play the sport, but in many cases never had the chance to play until they were adults.

On the sidelines, we spoke with Brenda, the mother of one of the Cork players. She explained that her parents had lived in New York for ten years, and her son became a big fan of baseball and American football. When he came to school at the CIT, he joined the team and became a running back. Unfortunately, earlier in the season, he experienced what she was told was the worst injury the team had ever seen, dislocating his ankle and breaking a bone. He spent three weeks in a Dublin hospital and is still on crutches.

It was a fun afternoon, and if the Admirals can get past the Dublin Rebels next week, we plan to watch them this August in Shamrock Bowl XXII, which will be played in Cork for the first time. Up Cork!