Helsinki Harps vs Oulu Irish Elks
Finland was the location for the most northernly GAA fixture in history which took place over the weekend. The Raati Stadium in Oulu, Finland was the venue for the historic Gaelic football clash last Saturday evening. The world’s most northerly Gaelic football game took place in the Finnish city, just south of the Arctic Circle, between the Oulu Irish Elks and the Helsinki Harps in the second leg of the All Finland Gaelic football finals with the Helsinki Harps running out winners by a score line of 4-7 to 0-9. Both clubs have only been set up since last January and this is billed as their local rivalry.
Finland’s only two GAA clubs are based over 600km apart clashed in a stadium which is over 2,100km from GAA headquarters in Croke Park. The Raati Stadium itself has hosted Liverpool in a European Cup game back in 1981. While at home the Irish clubs lament the departure of their players at both local and county level, the game is flourishing overseas, with GAA clubs across Europe, North America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand enriched by the influx of young and talented Irish players who are eager to maintain their connection with Ireland by playing their national sport.
Clubs can now be found from Vancouver Canada, to Wellington New Zealand, and everywhere in between. There are numerous clubs in Australia and New Zealand, and in Asia clubs can be found in Singapore, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and many other countries. Britain and North America remain the two strongholds of Gaelic football internationally, with dozens of clubs in London and New York alone. Overall there are over 400 clubs outside of Ireland with about 16,000 people actively playing. The game is growing very rapidly in China and Europe, two locations in which the GAA had a limited presence until quite recently.
One of the latest clubs abroad are the Eindhoven Shamrocks, a new addition to the European GAA scene founded by a group of Irish graduate engineers, and they have already assembled an impressive group of Irish and local players.
Over 50% of the players involved in the match are non-Irish but pride of place must go to Juha Jokela, a native Finn. He embarked on a 970km journey to play in the game as he lives on the Finnish-Russian border. Jokela’s love of Gaelic football stemmed after he saw a DVD in 2010 and he was subsequently hooked on the sport. He had Gaelic footballs sent over from Ireland and built his own goalposts using drain pipes in his garden.
The game itself took place as part of the Irish Festival of Oulu, one of the biggest Irish music and cultural festivals in Europe. Donal Denhem, the Irish Ambassador to Finland, was in attendance at the game which was streamed live on Saturday evening from the journal.ie website.