The World Games – an explosion of colour and culture

The GAA World Games brought players from all over the globe to Derry this week. Liam McGinley was back on Irish soil with Asia and Celine Diffin was back on the next part of her adventure. They spoke with Michael McMullan…

THE world is a massive place made so much smaller by the grá for Gaelic Games. One look at the swathe of colour coming down Derry’s Shipquay Street on Monday painted that very picture. It told everything that needed to be told about the GAA’s offering.

From Cambodians who never saw a football or a sliotar until Paddy Campbell and Conor Wall’s Cairde Khmer rolled out their welcome, to ex-pats flocking to GAA clubs as their home away from home, the Association formed in Hayes’ Hotel is on a totally different level.

Dublin and Kerry will lock horns on Sunday to get their hands on Sam, but from talking to Liam McGinley and Celine Diffin last week, the excitement in their voice etches the picture of how much being part of the GAA family means at all levels.

Liam McGinley was the typical young fella growing up anywhere in Ireland. Buncrana GAA club was his oasis away from study.

He played all the way up the ranks until university came calling. NUI Galway and a career in physiotherapy took him west before a masters pulled him cross the pond to Scotland.

“I played in the British Championships when I was over there,” McGinley said of the first leg of a life and sporting journey that took him all the way back home this week.

“I was at Queen Margaret but we were a small university so we played our football with Edinburgh University.”

Liam found love in his masters course where he met his future wife Maire. A temporary NHS post kept him ticking over until the lure of Singapore arrived.

“She was keener to travel than I was,” McGinley laughed. “I probably would’ve gone back to play football in Buncrana and worked around home.”

They arrived in 2012 as Singapore peeked its head from under the cover of a recession. Job opportunities were more plentiful than in home shores. And travel had the appeal of pastures sweeter than home.

“We said we’d go over here for a year or two,” McGinley said. “We knew a few people who had been working over here as physios and liked it.

“At that stage, Singapore was recruiting heavily from Ireland and the UK for physios, so we said come over here for a few years and 10 years later we are still here.”

It was the right choice and they settled in immediately. The Irish community was “fairly tight” and they had their homework done, It’s no different than any holiday. The research has to be done.

“The first thing I did was Google Singapore GAA,” Liam said. “I saw a boy from the club up the road at home in a photo over here. I got on to him and the opportunity to play football over here was one of the things that sold me too I suppose.

“I spoke to him and he was raving about it, that it was a nice spot and the chance to play a bit of football over here was great.”

This week, McGinley has been playing in the colours of the combined Asian team. Speaking before jetting back from Singapore, there is a lure of being back home again. Even if it’s only a flying visit.

While the rest of the players were put up in the Ulster University Magee campus, he checked in for home cooking and family time in Buncrana.

“Any time any of the family ask us when we are coming home, we tell them it is another two years,” he said of any plans to come home.

Everything in Singapore is on a two-year cycle. Leases. Rent. Phone contracts. One renewal after another and the next thing a decade has passed.

“We have a son now, he is 16 months and that’s the thing now, we are saying about coming home for him to go to school, but we’ll see,” he adds.

For now, the Singapore Gaelic Lions is their family. The sole club in among the 5.5M inhabitants. It’s smaller than county Louth, McGinley throws out as the comparison. A 30-minute drive takes you from northern tip to the south. It would take you two thirds of the way across Singapore.

“Most cities in Asia have just one club and we are one of the largest clubs, if not the largest club in Asia,” he said.

“When we go to some of the games, we’d be bringing four or five squads of men and the same with ladies’ team. We have squads of 12 or 13 and it’s nine-a-side, a bit like the rugby sevens.”

There are more games. More play and less sweepers. There is the relaxation and enjoyment in equal measure. It offers hurling and camogie. McGinley has picked up a hurl, but never wielded one. Not yet.

“I wouldn’t be much of a hurler,” he jokes.

Like many pockets of GAA far away from home, the season doesn’t dish out regular games. The years are broken down with trips and tours.

“In the early part of the year, we’d maybe start training in February or March,” he said. “Then in May, there would be the North Asian Games and it would be the same in the south.

“Then there is a break in the summer because a lot of the clubs are powered by teachers, so they’d go travelling or back home for the summer.

“In the latter part of the year, it’s the All-Asian Games and it’s in Kuala Lumpur this year, teams from north and south Asia. They come together for the main competition in October or November, depending on what country they are hosting them in.”

After this week, they’ll get themselves braced for the All-Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur. And so, the cycle continues.


Run your eyes down the Singapore Lions’ membership list and you’ll find an Irish core, with American, British and Australians all in there too. But the door is always open. And to everyone, just like when Liam and Maire McGinley make their trip a decade ago.

“We have a couple of local Singaporeans down in the men’s and women’s teams,” Liam explains. “The women have a wider network of nationalities because there wouldn’t be as many Irish women playing football here.

“It is nice to see some of the locals coming down to play it for the first time who see how enjoyable Gaelic football can be. They maybe play basketball or soccer, so it is nice to see them getting involved and picking it up.”

A glance at their Facebook page, and the poster advertising hurling taster mornings on the beach in Sentosa would nearly make one book a ticket and give it a whirl. And that’s the attraction of GAA overseas. There is something for everyone.

HOME FROM HOME…Liam McGinley is loving the involvement with the Singapore Gaelic Lions

McGinley adds in the example of a Singaporean going the other way. Armed with a degree, he headed to Athlone for his masters. There, he joined the college GAA team and now back home.

“He lands down to training with his Athlone training top on, which is brilliant,” he explains. “He didn’t know any GAA until he went there and now, he is back and down playing with us. There are some people who didn’t know anything about it, so it is a real mixture.”

Away from the Lions, the World Games and form of sport, the Lions are like every club. There is loyalty and reaching out the hand of need and friendship.

“The club here becomes your family here very fast, McGinley said. “None of us have any family while we are here, so it would be a very social club.

“While there is a serious side, with the footballers taking it very seriously, it is very welcoming to all levels. It is a very social club.

“Every year there is a team that go to the games and they are the ‘Craic Squad’ and they going there to play football, but they are very much going there to enjoy it and have a laugh as much as they playing football.”

Quizzes. Nights out. Club functions. It’s all there. Club sponsor Muddy Murphy’s pub is the hub.

There is also the caring arm when bereavement entered the Lions’ circle and the “tough times” followed. There was a member who passed away at training.

“Lisa Orsi from Derry passed away in our second year and she would’ve played with the ladies’ team. She climbed a mountain in Indonesia, took ill and passed away,” McGinley said.

Speaking to Jerome Quinn this week, Lisa’s father Dennis said he fully joined the GAA family the day Lisa passed away, such was the support they offered when it was needed most.

“The club has been a great support when people have gone through some tough times such as that,” McGinley said.

“It was the same during Covid when Singapore have some of the strictest restrictions in the world.

“When we were allowed to do things. They were very strict here in terms of numbers you could socialise in. You would be put in prison of you disobeyed them.”

First, there were runs in pairs which grew into fives with the relaxation of lockdown. It kept people together, far, far away from their family back home.

“It was a great way to meet up and for people new to Singapore who didn’t have that many friends, it was great for them at the time,” McGinley added.

“They are allocated in a group of five and they were doing something active to lift their spirits. It has been great from a sporting and a social aspect.”

It’s McGinley’s third taste of the games. Eight years ago, it was Abu Dhabi and 2019 brought him back to Ireland, to Waterford.

“There was a carnival atmosphere with a lot of culture and colour. It was great to be playing against teams from all over and to be representing your club from Singapore and Asia,” he said of the games and its appeal.

“It’s equally good to see people from every corner of the globe playing Gaelic football and playing it as a sport they have been playing for a long time.

“There is going to be more 15-30 per cent more players again than there was in Waterford. These games seem to be growing every time they host.

“GAA are very fun sports to play and you can see the joy on people’s faces when they play Gaelic football or pick up a hurl for the first time.

“If they play other sports, they realise that maybe a lot of their skills translate across and you can see the enjoyment they see from it.”


Armagh’s Celine Diffin is another walking example of what the GAA World Games encapsulates. Travel, football and camogie are part of her DNA.

A native of the Cathedral City, she played football for Pearse Óg and camogie with St Brigid’s but it’s been a while since she donned either jersey.

After marrying Matthew, also from Armagh, back home last year, they’ve been part of the Vietnamese GAA family for the last year.

Speaking before this week’s games, the plans were in place for all it would offer. The WhatsApp group was buzzing with messages of times and arrangements. Basically, Ts that needed crossed.

Her travels began after school, when she decided to join what seemed like the half of Ireland who chose Australia for somewhere to broaden their horizons.

“I was there for two years after school and when I came back, I thought I better put my head down here and do something,” she laughs.

“I studied over in Liverpool, in John Moore’s and I played Gaelic for them. I went to Edge Hill University for my PCGE training.”

From the playing point of view, Queensland was swapped for John Mitchel’s before the travel bug struck again and a Kindergarten teaching post in Vietnam caught her attention.

SMALL BALL…Celine Diffin in camogie action

“Before I go anywhere, I make sure there is a Gaelic team and it was the same in Vietnam. I was in touch to make sure there was a team,” she said.

What’s the attraction? Love of the game of the importance of friendships abroad? For Diffin, it’s both.

“I have played football and camogie all my life, but I think it is important being in with a GAA community.

“It is so helpful with the things you get out of it. There are friends for life from across the world, not just from Ireland and are very helpful for anything you need.

“When me and my husband landed in Vietnam, we hadn’t a clue about anything. It was alien to us, but everyone from the Viet Celts club in Hanoi were brilliant. They told us everything we needed to know.

“We got married here last year here in Armagh. Matthew never played Gaelic since he was a child and not over in Vietnam we have been to the Asian Games, the South East Asian Games, he is playing away.

“My cousin lives over Vietnam now. His wife is Vietnamese and their child is our Godson. We went over be a bit closer to them.

“We are trying to get him into it. Where they live in Vietnam is quite small, but he has the Pearse Óg and Armagh jersey on, the Hanoi Celts jersey on.”

There is a sizeable Irish community in Vietnam. The other side of the country boasts the Na Fianna and Saigon Gaels clubs.

The Viet Celts hosted their own invitational tournament in February, when they were joined for a week of festivities by Gaels from across the country.

“It was brilliant to see the amount of Irish people there and it’s not just about that,” Celine said. “People from all over the world are there, it was great to see them getting stuck in.

“There are a few girls in our team who play AFL so they have a bit of an idea.

“We try to tell anyone not to be worried and to just come and give it a go, it’s fine.

“We are there to help, to lend a hand and teach them as much as we can.

“You get people from all over the world that have never played any sport, they have the social aspect and that really helps them too.

“It’s the same game, but there are a couple of rules that are different, there is no square ball.

“Getting used to those rule changes and understanding that it is not as competitive. It is more fun over there.

“The concept that if you are not training three or four nights week you don’t start, that’s taken out of it and it’s a good thing too.”

Away from the playing side, Matthew and Celine are fully engaged in the coaching side of the club. Saturday morning could see “up to 60” children out dipping their toes in GAA, from the ages of three to 10.

“It’s mental to have numbers like that,” Celine said. “We took the Hanoi Celts took a team to the Asian Games last year in Malaysia. We took our wee team over and they came back with a trophy we well.”

This was her first experience of the GAA World Games. Having experienced GAA across different countries, she had a fair idea of what was coming down the tracks.

On top or organising their own transport and logistics, the Celts had the GAA family spirit to help others.

“We tried to help out with promoting Cambodia as well, sharing their links on Facebook. They were fundraising as much possible to get as many of them across,” Celine said of that look out for one another mentality.

“At the games in Thailand, Cambodia were there and they were selling their jerseys and trying to raise money.”

That’s the GAA in a nutshell. Just like home. One club launches a fundraising draw. Other clubs support it. When the shoe is on the other foot, the generosity is reciprocated.

When the curtain comes down on the 2023 World Games the success will be the increase since 2019 in Waterford and the knowledge that in four years’ time it will all begin again.

It’s a massive advertisement for the growth of an association that has the world at its feet.

Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere


Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. 10-14 John Street, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT781DW