By Joel Wass
Volleyball has its share of hitting and bumping, but it is far from the roughest sport in Erin Gallagher’s life.
“Gaelic football gets pretty physical,” says Gallagher, the left side hitter on Ryerson’s women’s volleyball team and a mid-fielder on Canada’s national women’s Gaelic football team “I’ve seen one girl roll her ankle. There are a lot of broken fingers. The ball is really hard and when you go up to catch, it sometimes goes off the fingers.”
Gaelic football originated in Ireland nearly 300 years ago and is a combination of rugby and soccer. It is played on a wide field and shares similar aspects with Australian Rules football. Today it is the most widely played sport in Ireland.
“You know how every kid in Canada plays recreational soccer, well that’s how it is in Ireland. Instead of playing soccer, kids play football,” says the first-year radio and television student. “I went to the All-Ireland final in September and there were 97,000 people [in the stadium].”
The Toronto native first gained interest in the sport two years ago while spending a summer in her ancestral country studying Irish literature.
Gallagher began playing competitive football in Toronto last year.
“My family and friends said I should go play football because I played a ton of other sports,” says Gallagher, a three-time high school athlete of the year at Richview C.I. “I guess I picked it up pretty fast. I made the Canadian team and that was it.”
In September, Gallagher travelled with the national team to compete in the Gaelic football championships in Ireland.
Most teams competing in the international tournament were comprised of players with Irish roots. The Canadian squad was kicked out of the tournament in the quarter-finals by the eventual world champion Australian team.
“This was only the third time Canada has gone over [to the world championships],” says the 5-foot-8 athlete. “Because Gaelic football is such a new sport in Canada it is only going to continue to grow.”
Gallagher practices with her Toronto club team, the Michael Cusacks, for two hours a week during the off season and competes in league games every Sunday during the summer.
While Gaelic football is safer than most Irish activities featured in Gangs of New York, Ryerson head coach Arif Nathoo admits he was a little hesitant when he first heard the additional athletic pursuit of his prized rookie.
“Injuries are always a concern,” says the eight-year Rams coach. “But at the same time this sport is going to help her build strength. It’s like cross-training for her. Her commitment to that is one day a week, so if she does that imp OK with it for now.”
Nathoo cringes at merely discussing the potential injury of a player he says has the talent to bump the Rams back into national championship contenders.
“Professional sports talk about franchise players – Erin is our franchise player,” says the former Ontario University Athletic East division coach of the year. “We need her here and we need to build around her. If she stays for four years you can see that she is going to make a tremendous impact.”
Gallagher is fully committed to the volleyball team, but is uncertain which sports will have the largest impact on her life after her Ryerson career concludes.
“I want to play beach [volleyball] for a few years when imp done school, but a lot of girls play football into their 30s,” says Gallagher, who was the youngest player on Canada’s Gaelic football team. “Hopefully I’ll make the national team again next time. As long as I’m physically able to play I hope I’ll always be playing football at a fairly competitive level.”