For the first time ever, P.E.I. will be sending players to the World Gaelic Athletic Association Games (GAA) when it kicks off in Dublin, Ireland, next week.
Six Island athletes and two coaches have been chosen to represent Eastern Canada in Gaelic football, which also includes players from Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax.
“Very excited, a little nervous, but still very excited,” said Jackie Perry, a member of the Canadian women’s Gaelic football team. “Anticipating all the big moments to come.”
Perry and her teammates Heather Harris and Saffire Corcoran are among the 15 players who will make up the national team roster.
On the men’s side, Islanders Brandon O’Keefe, Marcellus Campbell and James Mallard will be suiting up for their first world championship.
First time competing
Heather Harris has never worn her country’s colours before.
She said she’s looking forward to representing P.E.I. and her home club at the world stage.
“That’s where the jitters come in,” she said. “I’ve never done that. I’ve never played for my country, so when we put that uniform on I think it’s going to be a pretty surreal experience as we march in that parade as Team Canada.”
C.J. Studer, one of the squad’s coaches, will help guide the Canadian team as it fights for a world championship.
He said he’s looking forward to seeing what different teams from around the world bring to the competition.
“The Russians play their style and Canada plays their style,” Studer said. “So, as a coach, I’m really excited to see the way they set up the game, and things we can steal and bring it back to Canada.”
A growing sport on P.E.I.
Gaelic football on P.E.I. has come a long way in a short time.
Team Eastern Canada liason Kim Studer said the roster of homegrown talent continues to grow.
“Two years ago, we didn’t even have a women’s team,” said Kim.
“Then last year, we were able to actually field a ladies team at the Eastern Canadians. So to go from two years ago not even having a ladies team, to having three ladies go to Ireland for the World Games, I mean, it’s unbelievable the growth that’s happened.”
More than 1,300 Gaelic footballers, hurlers and camogie players from countries as far away as Australia, South Africa, Argentina and China will be competing.
More than 500 games will be played over the course of the week-long festival.
‘Suitcase is out, bags are getting packed’
Island players say it’s just such a privilege to wear the maple leaf on their backs and represent Canada.
“When I got the call and the opportunity to play, it was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I couldn’t turn down,” said Harris. “The suitcase is out, bags are getting packed, final preparations are being made.”
Perry said when she started playing the sport just over a year ago she never thought she’d be vying for such a prestigious title.
“This wasn’t even on the radar, so yeah it seems pretty surreal.”
All six Island athletes will play their first games on Monday.
The week-long World Gaelic Athletic Association Games will take place between July 28 and Aug. 1.