Éire Óg Seville: Spain’s hidden GAA gem

Dermot McGuigan has a new love for Gaelic football in the sunny climes of Spain. In the week World GAA launched their new strategy, he tells Michael McMullan about what Éire Óg, Seville has to offer.

IT’S almost 3,000 kilometres from the picturesque slopes of Slieve Gallion, in the heart of County Derry, to the banks of the Guadalquivir river, snaking through Seville, in southern Spain, but Dermot McGuigan is back walking along a GAA path he grew up fascinated by.

A star of Desertmartin underage teams, he pushed into the senior ranks before his priorities would eventually change.

A Biomedical Science degree took him to Belfast where he would soon crave a different direction.

He would enter the world of work for a few years in the big smoke, banking experience that would prepare him for the real world.

The Sunflower Bar, on the shoulders of the Cathedral Quarter, would then open a door that changed everything.

Every Monday they’d offer free Spanish lessons. While not attracted to languages in his days studying in St Colm’s, Draperstown, the appeal was now pulling at him.

There was an urge to travel seeping into the mind-set until Covid-19 pressed pause on his plans.

“I have always been a bit different and I wanted to do something new,” McGuigan said if his life-changing moment. “I fell into Spanish and when you start learning a language, you get the urge to travel and use it.”

With the relaxation in travel restrictions, a move to Valencia was eventually on the cards.

It was there where his love for GAA gushed back with an Iberian Championship medal thrown into the mix.

Through a contact, an opening to teach English was on the table and there was soon another love.

“I ended up meeting my girlfriend Esther (Rodriguez Coronil) there, she is from Spain,” McGuigan added.

His Valencia adventure lasted two years before a return home. They stayed six months. It didn’t properly take root.

Esther had a contact in Seville and, last January, they were soon back in Spain.

Working for Pharmaceutical Wholesaler iMed, the brainchild of Paul Murphy and Draperstown pharmacist Laurence O’Kane, McGuigan had flexibility. He could work from any corner of the world.

It allowed him to park his teaching “sabbatical” and return to what his degree prepared him for.

Last week, on a visit back home, McGuigan was working from iMed’s Draperstown base, but, with a computer and an internet connection, the world is his oyster.

The conversation group in the Sunflower Bar was the passport to a totally different experience and a diverse circle of friends.

“It definitely helped me, when I moved out to Spain I had a lot of Spanish already and that was a huge help,” he added.

“There are a lot of Irish living out here in Spain, we have a great community out here and English is also widely spoken.”

The other language spoken is one from home, a sporting one. Just like his internet connection, Seville’s Éire Óg GAA club opened the door on another world.


Founded in 2009, Éire Óg is a developing club. As of November 2023, they’d 42 members on the books with 13 registered underage players.

Seville is situated in the Andalusia region. Éire Óg compete with teams from Marbella, Málaga and Gibraltar. It also includes Lisbon from over the border in Portugal. Marbella is the only other active underage club in the area of the five dotted across Iberia.

Éire Óg field teams in both codes – men and women. There is also hurling and camogie. All are intertwined with a thriving committee. McGuigan has taken up the mantle of coach and is getting an extra kick from his new role.

“A lot of clubs were hit by the pandemic,” he explains. “Last year we were playing seven a side. There were poor numbers at training, 10 at a mixed session if you are lucky on a Wednesday.”

Last year, the men didn’t qualify for the knock-out stages while the women made it to the shield.

“There is a huge comparison between this year and last year,” McGuigan adds. “It is a brand new committee. A lot of the ladies are doing great work.”

Under chairperson Siobhán O’Donovan, there is a new lease of life. His girlfriend Esther shares the PRO duties with American born Sophia Finned.

His friend, Jose Granero, has put his shoulder to the wheel. Ballinascreen native Conor Bradley has blended into club life since moving to Spain last November.

There are the same priorities as any club. Funding is sourced and feelers are put out to recruit more players. The simple things are the most important.

Seville was established until the pandemic hit hard. In 2022, when McGuigan was playing with Valencia, Seville put their shoulder to the wheel hard enough to qualify in 2022.

There was a league title before not being in a position to challenge last season.

“A lot of work has been done this year around the club to recruit people,” McGuigan points out of the renaissance. “Both teams will end up qualifying for the shield or the cup.”

There is more an international feel to the Seville team than the bigger cities. Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia have always attracted more students. Like any club, playing numbers is an important currency for success.

“We have a really good representation across the team because people from all over the world feel very comfortable playing for us,” McGuigan adds.

Éire Óg’s roster consists of players from Australia who grew up with AFL. There are South Africans and Americans. With English being pushed as a language across Spain, opportunity knocks on anyone interesting in teaching.

A hot topic within the club is three freedom of expression. The 11-a-side format on a sizeable rugby pitch leaves space. Defensive systems are scare, if existent at all.

McGuigan feels there is learning on how the games I played in Spain and other parts of the globe outside Ireland.

Coupled with the importance of belonging to a community, he has found his footballing mojo again.

“I stepped away from football before I came and it has now turned full circle, I am coaching the team and promoting the sport out there,” he said of the “learning curve” that excites him.


While there is an acceptance the intensity isn’t at the levels back home, the degree of competitiveness would surprise many.

Outside of the big three – Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona – Andalusia has plenty to offer. The four teams of two years ago has stretched to five. They’ve added an fourth ladies’ team.

“I am confident that if we had all our lads out, we could compete with those teams,” McGuigan offers.

With a focus on the key skills comes the enjoyment. With it comes the challenge of the diverse ranges of abilities – from the player tasting GAA for the first time to the top notch club player coming out from Ireland to pursue a spot in an Erasmus scheme.

“I have played football all my life and I have gone in this year to try to bring everyone to the same base level,” he adds of his motivation in taking charge of the team.

Seville hosted a GAA-funded coaching course that brought 15 coaches from all over Andalusia together. One of the talking points was the multi-layered model required to take everyone out of their comfort zone.

“My friend Jose is picking up the sport,” McGuigan said of a native Spaniard in their ranks.

“In every training session we have to focus on one skill…we make it basic while also making it challenging for the other lads.

“It is good thing that we have new players all the time, that’s the nature of it.”

The flip side is how the revolving door churns other players in the other direction. After a short stint in Spain, the football skills they have brushed up on are lost when they invariably move on.

It’s the same in most overseas’ pockets with the acceptance of people merely tuning into planet GAA for a short time.

The other aspect virtually all clubs outside Ireland struggle with is securing access to facilities. Éire Óg are currently sharing a pitch with a rugby club on the outskirts of Seville.

They’ve the Merchant Bar picking up the tab for the rent which is a help, allowing registration fees and other fundraising income to be filtered down different avenues.

Having an underage wing to their club has been a help in securing help from the GAA who are content of an ambition to grow their roots.

“We hosted a kids’ tournament last year,” McGuigan adds. “It is pretty small at the moment but that is a big objective, if you can develop the sport out here you are going to be cemented.”

The vision would be to grow the club and with any extra income be in a position to play their games in a more central venue. The knock-on effect would be making the sport more visible and attractive.

“If we can encourage more Spanish people to come in and play the sport then we can justify using that space,” McGuigan said of how their growth will be a two-way street.

“You can see the future state of what you want the club to look like. If you get the youth teams playing, hundrerds of members, then you are going to have more influence of getting a more central pitch and it will snowball in terms of getting more people to play.”

What is success for an overseas club? Silverware along the line will be an obvious gauge but there are other milestones. It’s about walking before you can run.

For McGuigan, he takes personal satisfaction from seeing the national sport growing far from Ireland’s shores.

Had someone told him four or five years ago that he’d be coaching a GAA team in Seville he’d have played the disbelief card.

“I have that passion for the sport again and I am able to share that with people who are enthusiastic about the sport,” he adds.

“I was obsessed with football when I was younger, through underage and into senior a little bit.

“I decided to take another path after that, I was motivated by other things, work and travel.

“You appreciate it more what the community is, when you live in another country, you are speaking with like-minded people and going out training on a Wednesday night.”

For Éire Óg, it all about recruitment of players while developing those already on board.

Qualification for the finals would extend the season and offer more time for the club to grow.

There is also a target to increase the awareness of players in Seville taking part in an actual league. To those back in Ireland, they would have no idea.

Another Éire Óg focus to twin pronged. Foster links with the Irish diaspora while encouraging more native Sevillians to take a look at that what the Irish culture has to offer.

The longer the chat goes on, the level of enthusiasm hanging on McGuigan’s every word becomes even more apparent.

Desertmartin planted the seed. After the initial growth, there was a period of stagnation before a GAA home from home stoked the fire again.

This Saturday will see Seville host Málaga, Marbella, Lisbon and Gibraltar at the San Jerónimo Rugby Club. It’s their turn to open their hospitable arms to like-minded Gaels.

For Dermot McGuigan, if he closed his eyes and tuned into the friendly chatter, he could easily be back kicking ball in the shadow of Slieve Gallion.

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