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Football in Singapore: Fun and fitness with the Singapore Gaelic Lions

By: Amy Brook-Partridge

Following publication of this article in our print magazine, a much-loved member of the Singapore Gaelic Lions, Lisa Orsi, sadly passed away at the age of 22 following a sudden illness. Our thoughts are with Lisa, her family and her many friends at this difficult time. 

If you’re up for the craic (that means fun, for those who weren’t sure), peppered with plenty of fitness training and football, joining the Singapore Gaelic Lions (SGL) could be for you.

From the outside, Gaelic football looks like a mix of soccer, rugby and Aussie Rules with a bit of volleyball thrown in, but it’s also challenging – a sport for the super-coordinated and super-fit. That said, players can join the SGL at any level, from complete beginner to experienced player, and the resounding feedback from members is that the club is about far more than football; it’s about having fun and making friends for life.

The Gaelic Lions have officially been in Singapore since 1997, with around 200 active players at any one time. Seasons generally start in March and go through to October, with a four-week break in June after the first major tournament, the South Asia Gaelic Games. We asked those in charge of the fun, fitness and football for the ladies’ team what newcomers should expect.


Niamh and Aine are from Ireland. Niamh is an occupational therapist and Aine is a speech and language pathologist; both are working with children. Tiffany has been in Singapore for two and a half years; she works in business development and is from Hawaii.

Niamh and Aine: We joined SGL to meet new friends, get fit and participate in a sport we’d never done before. We were delighted to be nominated as the new social chairs this year. We really enjoyed the events last year and, as newbies, they definitely helped us integrate into the club, so we would love to help people in the same way this year.

Tiffany: I got into Gaelic football because my husband is from Cork, Ireland, and he joined SGL when we moved here in 2012. I got dragged out by some of the Irish girls, and the rest is history. No one from home knows what Gaelic football is, but I love it!

How important is the craic to SGL?
Niamh and Aine:
To us, the craic was the most important reason for joining SGL. We hadn’t played football before, and it was great that everyone was so welcoming both on and off the field. The social events really helped us get to know everyone on a more personal level, helped us feel like we were part of a community, and made SGL a home away from home.

Tiffany: I think the craic is a big factor in why members stay with the club; it’s how new people meet one another and how everyone becomes friends so quickly. I remember my first event; I had so much fun, and all I wanted was more.



What can newcomers expect?
Niamh and Aine:
One thing that surprised us was the variety of personalities and ages within SGL, and how Gaelic was not just confined to Singapore, but that we travelled to competitions all over Asia. One thing to be afraid of is going up and down stairs after a weekday fitness session with Mel!

Tiffany: They can expect to make a ton of new friends. You start seeing the same people at the events and the club becomes your second family. You can also expect to learn a new sport (if you haven’t played it before) and to get fit. I have definitely lost weight since joining the club. The club motivates you to go to fitness sessions because you want to catch up with your friends! Oh, and also expect to become very Irish.

Australian Mel has been playing Gaelic football for nearly eight years. “I started in May 2007. I thought I was attending a fitness session, but it turned out to be football instead, and I’ve never looked back. Apart from just enjoying the game, I love that it’s an achievable sport to learn as an adult and play competitively. I love team sports, and the added bonus is going on tour and having the best craic of my life!”

What should a new member expect on the fitness side when joining?
Members are entitled to one fitness session a week, run by myself through my bootcamp company Bloom’n Fit, as well as a group running club. Both sessions aim to prepare players to be match-fit and tournament-fit.

The fitness sessions include cardio, agility, speed, strength and resistance training. The running club gets progressively harder throughout the year as fitness levels improve. We start with a 5km run in the Botanic Gardens, and by October build up to a one-hour-plus interval hill-training session.

There is a range of ability levels at every session, so we cater for everyone from beginners to the very fit. We also do fitness testing at different times throughout the season, so that players can monitor their progress and set fitness goals.



How fit do you really need to be?
To get the maximum enjoyment out of playing the game, you need to have a high level of fitness; however, Gaelic football is a sport that anyone at any level can learn to play and enjoy while doing so. Of course, the fitter you are the easier it will be, and fitness is key to playing competitive football. In this climate, it’s the difference between winning and losing a tournament.

What do you love about your involvement with the club?
I’m passionate about being fit and healthy and helping and motivating others to be the same. I also love the way it bonds the squad; those who train together play well together, and therefore – we hope – win together.

Originally from the UK, Paul Carpenter (PC) is a perennial expat. He manages to squeeze in a full-time job between coaching the ladies’ Gaelic football team, assisting with the UWC Gaelic programme, and setting up and mentoring the South African Gaels. (Oh, and he’s completing an MBA too.)

“I come from a sporty family, so sport has always been a central and important part of my life. I played in the Singapore A Team in 2006 and 2007, and, having developed a taste for Gaelic football and discovering there was no team when I moved to Africa, we decided to set one up, hence the SA Gaels.

“On returning to Singapore I was asked if I would be the ladies’ coach, so I now look after the Gaelic Lionesses and help out at UWC with its Gaelic programme for the Grade 9s.”

You say football comes behind fitness and the craic. Why?
We are a social club; it’s all about being a club that people want to be a part of. There are three reasons for that: the craic, fitness and football. If people are happy and feel healthy, then they will always enjoy their football. If the day comes when we take our football and ourselves too seriously, then we are heading down the wrong path. Gaelic clubs in Ireland are all about supporting the community. The Irish have been doing that with great success for hundreds of years, so we are just replicating a trusted and well-founded recipe!



How would you describe Gaelic football to a beginner?
Rugby plus football plus basketball plus volleyball, all rolled into one and played on a pitch the size and shape of a rugby pitch. You can run with the ball, pass with your hand and pass with your feet.

What can newcomers expect from the football training?
My job as a coach is not to train the people who know how to play; it’s about encouraging those who are learning. Newbies always gets lots of attention from Coach PC.

What’s the best thing about coaching the ladies’ team?
Girls care; they care about their coach and they care about each other. Therefore, it is easy to coach ladies because they care about the whole experience. As long as I abide by the rules: gossip time is sacred, and don’t get involved in the politics, then it all goes well. It’s very rewarding coaching the Singapore Gaelic Lionesses; they’re an awesome bunch of people who want to improve. What more does a coach need?


This story was first published in Expat Living’s March 2015 issue.