By Kara C. Rodriguez
Leesburg’s Morven Park will be a popular place to be this weekend, as it plays host to the 2019 national finals of the U.S. Gaelic Athletic Association.
It’s an August tradition for the association, which brings together athletes and supporters from across the U.S. and Canada for the annual event. The weekend-long tournament closes out the official season and is played in a different U.S. city each year. More than 2,000 male and female athletes will compete in the Irish sports of Gaelic football, hurling and camogie.
According to its website, the 134-year-old association is a community-based, volunteer organization promoting Irish sports, culture and lifelong participation. There are more than 130 adult and youth clubs in the U.S. under its administration. Clubs participate in divisional championship competitions to qualify for the national finals in their respective sport and grade of competition.
While some of the games played in the competition resemble American sports, they have their own twist. Hurling is a game with ancient Gaelic and Irish origins that historians believe has been played for 3,000 years. Camogie is almost identical to the sport of hurling played by men, with only minor rule differences. The objective of both games is for players to use a wooden stick, called a hurley, to hit a small ball called a sliotar between the opponent’s goalposts either over the crossbar for one point, or under the crossbar into a net guarded by a goalkeeper for one goal, which is equivalent to three points.
Gaelic football was first codified in 1887, although it has purported links to older varieties of football played in Ireland. The objective of the sport is to score by kicking or punching the ball into the other team’s goals, scoring three points, or between two upright posts above the goals and over a crossbar a little over 8 feet above the ground, for one point.
Morven Park board member—and proud Irishman—Michael O’Connor has been involved with the Gaelic Athletic Association since he was a toddler growing up in Chicago. He’s excited about bringing the association finals to his new home in Leesburg and says the estimated 4,500 people that will travel to the event will be a great opportunity to market the town.
He encourages area residents to come check out the tournament, which runs from Friday to Sunday. In addition to several games happening simultaneously, Irish food and music is to be expected. O’Conner also encourages those who venture out for the Saturday games to stick around to enjoy Polo in the Park that evening.
“It should be a weekend to be remembered in Leesburg for a long time,” he said.
For more information about the tournament, go to usgaafinals2019.com.