A taxi ride at rush hour through Riyadh’s chaotic traffic for almost forty minutes brings us to the gateway of one of Riyadh’s better compounds to the north of the city. Any taxi ride around this city is eventful to say the least, road etiquette simply doesn’t exist and neither does public transport, and add in the fact that women are not permitted to drive (though there’s no specific written law on this !) and that the city has a population of some six million people, gives you an idea of what traffic can be like here.
It’s Sunday evening, which is the first working day of the week, and it’s also the beginning of pre-season training for Riyadh’s Naomh Alee Riyadh GAA Club, a fully affiliated GAA club, founded twenty years ago and a member of the broader Middle East GAA Family which includes other clubs in UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman & Kuwait.
It’s still around 38 degrees when we start our workout on the floodlit grass pitch which has just been much sought after these past few seasons, the group grows to over forty people by the time training kicks off in earnest at 8pm, which is of course is in complete darkness at this time of the evening all year around. This session is led by Sean O’Sullivan from Cork, Patrick Moynagh from Cavan and Tony Robinson from Derry and the participants and club members come from Dublin, Fermanagh, Clare, Galway, Antrim, Down, Wexford, Offaly, Cavan, Derry, Westmeath, Louth, Meath, Tipperary and a few lads from Cork. It doesn’t end there of course as a further sizeable contingent in this group and the club as a whole come from much further afield, such as United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, United States and Jordan. At one point in the session, one could even hear a strong Australian accent count out “a H-aon, A do, a tri….” while the squad does press ups.
In recent years, Naomh Alee Riyadh GAA Club has seen a strong revival in Riyadh, coinciding with the economic slump back in Ireland which has brought additional numbers of professionals to the Kingdom securing work in sectors such as Banking, Construction, Education, Agriculture and Nursing, the club has seen increased participation and is now running a number of both Men’s and Ladies Teams in the Middle East League, and competing very consistently and competitively in the past few years. They provide Gaelic Football only at the moment, however in its early years in the late 1990’s, it was initially a hurling club, and there are ambitions to once again field a hurling team in the future.
This club is like no other in the sense that it doesn’t have a dedicated pitch and must arrange to use facilities such as this one within a compound, it also uniquely must travel abroad to play competitive matches given the lack of any other GAA in the Kingdom at the moment and the difficulties in getting visa’s to allow a travelling team to come to Riyadh to play the home team, so Noamh Alee Riyadh GAA Club will travel over six weekends over the winter season to Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and Al Ain to play fixtures in the Middle East League and other Competitions in the region. It’s a huge commitment from players and management alike and a great credit to all of them. The Club has also been very well supported by way of sponsorship from Irish Businesses working in Saudi Arabia in recent times, such as Jones Engineering Group, Bruce Shaw, First Staff Recruitment and CCM Recruitment.
Beyond sport however, the Club represents so much more, it’s a very natural stop off point for Irish emigrants passing through Riyadh , whether on a long stint here over many years or a one year assignment. It provides a vital conduit for those just arrived to find out how to make one’s way around this vast city and integrated into their new surroundings and culture, it’s a vital sporting and social outlet for the many Irish, British, Australian and New Zealand nurses who play on the ladies squad, and a great way of building and sustaining the Irish Community in Riyadh, fostering new friendships and also having some great fun.
Naomh Alee Riyadh GAA Club also run a Juvenile programme for young boys and girls to take up the sport. They also promote Irish culture and with the on-going support of the Irish Embassy, has been to the forefront of all things Irish in Riyadh.
The session finishes up just before 10pm with a warm down led by Tony, and the exhausted and rather sweaty group of people head off into the Riyadh night chatting as they go, off to recover, get home, have a shower and a good sleep before the next day’s work and the next training session the following Wednesday…….
If you are Interested in participating in Gaelic Football, want to stay fit and also get to know more people in Riyadh, or maybe you are considering a move to Riyadh soon, get in touch, as the club is always looking for new members and is here to help….
Contact details as follows…