Māori mum and daughter at home on Gaelic football pitch

By James Perry

Gaelic football is one of Ireland's most popular sports.  While it's still a minor sport in Aotearoa, Ngāti Kuri's Miria Allman has been playing it for around 16 years.  This year, daughter Ella has joined her on the pitch.

14-year-old Ella isn't put off by the prospect of playing in the open grade with women a lot older than herself. 

"I guess it's difficult because the girls are a lot stronger," she says, "But most of us are like the same speed." 

Miria, however, has found herself drifting into protective mother mode on a couple of occasions. 

"I occasionally give the opposition coaches a bit of grief if something happens to her on the pitch," she says. 

However, overall the pair are enjoying being able to play sport together. 

"it's good fun. It's nice watching her develop and her skill set compared to my skill set is completely different," says Miria.

Ella agrees, "Yeah, it's fun playing with my mum, even though I'm on the other side of the pitch."

Gaelic football is played with 15 players per team using a round ball, just a bit smaller a soccer ball.  Traditionally matches are played on a pitch bigger than that used for soccer and rugby and the goalposts are similar to rugby, with the crossbar slightly lower.

In New Zealand the game is played on a rugby field with traditional rugby goalposts.  Similar to Australian Rules Football, players must pass, kick, bounce or 'solo' the ball (drop the ball on their own boot and catch it again).

Three points are awarded for putting the ball under the crossbar (soccer style goal) or one point for kicking it over the crossbar. 

With a skillset closely similar to the football codes already well known in Aotearoa, it is no surprise that former football, rugby and netball player Miria has adopted her skills to the game. 

"The skills correspond across- the ability to catch a ball, to kick a ball, to look for a pass all come across," she says. 

It took a lot of convincing before Allman senior first dipped her toe in Gaelic football, and unsurprisingly it was an Irish bar manager who did so. 

"I used to drink in an Irish bar and one of the bar managers was the manager of the team.  After weeks of harassing me every weekend I came out and played, and I'm still playing," Miria says.

It is as much the friendly Irish atmosphere as it is the sport itself that has kept her interested. 

"[it's] really similar to being Māori as well, very family-oriented, very social, again, like to party, like to go for beers.  Not that we're saying Māori people do it all the time, but yeah, it's just that very family orientated," she says.

Ella, who also plays football and hockey is having to balance her time playing at this weekends Gaelic Games tournament in Auckland with her preparations for Polyfest.

The Year 10 Mt Albert Grammar student is part of the school's kapa haka team preparing to perform on April 6th after Division 1 was postponed following the Christchurch terrorist attack last weekend.

"There's a live-in this weekend but I'm here, so I'll go back to school and practice after this," the younger Allman says.

The Allmans are encouraging more Māori to give Gaelic football a go for themselves.