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Gaelic sports for beginners

This page is designed to help people who are new to the USGAA, and who may be getting involved in the organization for the first time. It explains how the association is structured, how it functions, and how you can get the best possible experience of Gaelic games for you and your club.

Notes:

  1. This document is a guide and provided for informational purposes only. It is not a rule book, and cannot be used as the basis of any appeals or to resolve disputes.
  2. A “championship” in USGAA terminology refers to a full playing season, rather than the final deciding game of that season.

Background

The GAA is based in a stadium called Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland. It governs hurling and Gaelic football worldwide. There are two other organizations based in Croke Park, these are the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA), and the Camogie Association (CA). While these two bodies share their headquarters, facilities, and cooperate with the GAA, they are not part of the GAA. 

Unlike more globalized sports that are governed on a nation-by-nation basis under a world federation, Gaelic games are governed on a county-by-county basis under the GAA which describes itself not as an international organization, but as a “national organization” in Ireland that happens to have an international dimension. “Croke Park” is often used as a euphemism for “headquarters” for the GAA, the LGFA, and the Camogie Association.

In order to understand how the GAA is structured internationally, it is necessary to know how it is structured in Ireland.

The GAA counties in Ireland use the local government boundaries as they were in 1884 when the association was founded. Even though the local government boundaries have changed significantly since then, the GAAʼs county boundaries have remained unchanged, and have helped to solidify the popular identity and allegiance that Irish people feel towards the traditional 32 counties.

Irish counties are grouped into Irelandʼs four historical provinces, Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht.

Inter-club Competitions

Each county is home to multiple clubs. Clubs in a county play in a county championship, the winning club in each county goes forward to a provincial championship, and winners of those competitions go on to the All-Ireland club championship, the final of which is played on St Patrickʼs Day in Croke Park.

Inter-County Competitions

In parallel to the inter-club competitions are the inter-county competitions. In each county, the best players from all of the clubs will be selected to play for the county team in high profile games attracting large crowds and television audiences in Ireland and among GAA fans worldwide.

Main inter-county competitions:

Competition
Played in
Format
All-Ireland Championships
Summer
Modified knockout. Early stages consist of counties competing for supremacy in each of their respective provinces in a provincial championship.
National Leagues
Spring
Round-robin. Teams are grouped into a hierarchy of divisions that are connected by a system of promotion and relegation.

The All-Ireland Championships are considered more prestigious than the National Leagues and attract a larger audience.

While all inter-county competitions are amateur, first-time viewers of the inter-county championships think they are looking at a professional sport because of the size of the audience. This high profile for an amateur sport is somewhat unique in the world of ball games.

In addition to the All-Ireland Championships and National Leagues, there is also a multitude of pre-season inter-county competitions in the GAA.

Inter-Provincial Competition

Since 1927 there has been a competition in the GAA for teams representing each of the four historical provinces of Ireland. To this day it is still known as the Railway Cup because of the donation of the cups by Irish Rail. Despite being popular with the players, interest in the competition among spectators began to decline in the 1990s after being moved around the calendar several times, and its future is now uncertain.

International Structures

In the same way that the GAA in Ireland is divided into counties, the GAA outside of Ireland is also divided into counties. However, not all of these “counties” have boundaries that coincide with those of local government. GAA counties in Britain roughly correspond to its historical counties, but in other parts of the world such as the US there is no such correlation.

North American Structures

The GAA on the North American continent is geographically divided into three regions, each with its own board governing it. As of now there is no common umbrella body covering the entire continent.

Territory
Governing body
Canada
Canadian County Board
New York City and adjoining metropolitan area
New York GAA
Rest of the USA
USGAA

Structure of our organization

The USGAA is a committee of eight people who oversee the development of Gaelic games in the USA outside of New York. Its responsibilities include facilitating inter-club competitions, and games development activities aimed at creating new clubs and assisting existing ones.

While in Ireland the sister sports of Ladies Gaelic Football and Camogie are run by external organizations, these sports in the USGAA's territory fall under the jurisdiction of the USGAA . The USGAA therefore affiliates to the GAA, but also to the LGFA and the Camogie Association.

The USGAA area is host to games running in three sectors:

  • Club (adult)
  • Youth
  • Collegiate

For the purposes of club and youth competitions, the USGAA's territory is divided into divisions as follows:

  • Northwest
  • Western
  • Southwest
  • Central
  • Midwest
  • Mid-Atlantic
  • Philadelphia
  • Northeast
  • Southeast
  • Heartland

Some divisions with larger numbers of clubs run an internal championship each year, as well as a pre-season competition. Finalists or winners of such divisional championships qualify for the USGAA Finals.

USGAA Finals

The USGAA Finals are a tournament held over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the Labor Day weekend to decide the winners of the USGAA Championships. This started as a small event in 1998 but has grown to become a major tournament attracting teams from all over the country.

The divisional championships and USGAA championships are part of the same competition and are governed by the same rules.

The location of the playoffs location rotates every year per the USGAA bye-laws. The location is an important issue because of the amount of money that is generated by the event, all of which goes to the hosting committee minus a $14,000 fee that goes to the USGAA.

Rules, Codes and Grades

There are four codes governed by the USGAA:

  • Menʼs Football
  • Ladiesʼ Football
  • Hurling
  • Camogie (Ladies Hurling)

Because of wide disparities in playing abilities, from absolute beginners to former inter- county players, the divisional championships and USGAA championships are strictly divided into grades. The number of grades available in each code varies as follows:


Menʼs Football
Ladiesʼ Football
Hurling
Camogie

Senior

Intermediate


Junior A

Junior B


Junior C



Junior D




Note: The words “Junior” and “Senior” in this context refer to playing ability and not age.

Sanctions and Inter-County Transfers

There are two ways that players can transition from playing overseas to playing in the USGAA area:

Inter-County Transfer (ICT)
Transaction approved by Croke Park for players who emigrate from overseas to the USGAA area on a permanent basis.
Sanction
Temporary “permission slip” from a club overseas for one of their registered players to play for an USGAA - affiliated club for ninety days. Only available for students.

A player on an ICT is therefore considered a “resident” player the same as one who was always lived in the USGAA area. Sanctions are reserved for people who are visiting the United States while traveling during the summer.

In the same way that competitive cyclists with experience of racing on the European continent generally race at a higher standard than those who do not have that experience, it is generally accepted that Gaelic players with experience of competition in Ireland have a higher playing ability than those who do not. For that reason, the presence of sanctioned players in the various grades is controlled by the USGAA by-laws in order to regulate playing standards, and to attempt to achieve balanced competitions in each grade.

The rules of the association can be found in rule books that are modified in meetings that are held on an annual basis.

DocumentContainingModified at
Official Guide Part 1
Playing rules of hurling and Gaelic Football
GAA annual congress
Official Guide Part 2
Rules of the GAA
GAA annual congress
Ladies Football Rulebook
Rules of Ladies Gaelic football and LGFA
LGFA annual congress
Camogie Association Rulebook
Rules of Camogie
Camogie Association annual congress
USGAA By-Laws
By-laws of the USGAA
USGAA annual convention
USGAA Regulations
Regulations of the USGAA
USGAA annual convention and/or pre-playoff meeting

Meetings

Meeting
Held in
Purpose
GAA annual congress
Ireland
Adjust rules of Official Guide
LGFA annual congress
Ireland
Adjust rules of LGFA
CA annual congress
Ireland
Adjust rules of CA
USGAA convention
Rotates around GAA cities in America
Adjust USGAA by-laws and regulations. Pass motions compelling the USGAA to propose motions at congress to modify the Official Guide. Elect board for the coming year.
USGAA pre-playoff meeting
City that is hosting the playoffs that year
Determine which teams are playing which in each competition at the playoffs. Confirm that facilities are ready. Regulations may be amended at this meeting.

The USGAA convention is perhaps the most important meeting that is held in the USGAA area each year. Very specific procedures are used to amend by-laws and regulations. Motions must be submitted in the correct format by a club secretary, must spell out clearly which by-law or regulation is being amended, how it is being amended, and the proposing club must have a speaker at the convention who will speak for the motion. If no speaker is present the motion is considered withdrawn; it is therefore very important that your club be represented at the convention. Motions that conflict with the Official Guide or do not adequately clarify which rule is being modified may be ruled out of order.

If your club is planning on attempting to modify the rules by way of a motion at convention, feel free to consult the USGAA secretary for advice on how to go about it.

Youth

Youth development and competition in the USGAA area is overseen by the USGAA Youth Board.

Continental Youth Championship

The Continental Youth Championship (CYC) is a major youth tournament held in June and is contested by youth teams from all three of the North American “county” areas. Following the decline of youth competitions that were held at the USGAA playoffs, the CYC was established in 2004 in order to provide meaningful competition at youth level at a time of the year that was convenient for families and children. It has grown to become one of the biggest GAA youth tournaments in the world, involving over 200 games played over three days.

It is governed by a steering committee which oversees the hosting committee.

Collegiate

Gaelic games at collegiate level in the USA are governed by the National Collegiate Gaelic Athletic Association (NCGAA). This fits into the GAA hierarchy as a sub-committee of the USGAA, but is elected by the collegiate clubs and governs its own affairs. Its territory is the entire USA including the New York metropolitan area, since both the USGAA and New York GAA agreed to allow the NCGAA to operate on a national basis.

Like the USGAA, the NCGAA sub-divides the country into regions, each with a regional governing body. However the boundaries of the NCGAAʼs regional committees are based on the distribution of college clubs, and hence do not coincide with the boundaries of the USGAA's divisional boards. The NCGAAʼs regional committees are:

  • California Collegiate Gaelic Athletic Association (CCGAA)
  • Midwest College Hurling Association (MCHA)
  • Northeast Collegiate Gaelic Athletic Association (NECGAA)
  • Southern Collegiate Gaelic Athletic Association (SCGAA)

Regional competitions and tournaments are facilitated by the regional committees, the formats of which are tailored to suit the local playing conditions, climate, and distribution of clubs. For example the MCHAʼs regional championship draws teams from a wide geographical area and is held as a single weekend tournament, whereas the CCGAAʼs Northern California Hurling Championship is held throughout the course of spring because its affiliated collegiate clubs are all within a few hoursʼ drive of each other.

The collegiate national championships are facilitated by the NCGAA via a local hosting committee. These are held as a single tournament over the Memorial weekend. Itʼs location rotates from year to year, and is determined by the NCGAA board which invites tenders from parties interested in hosting the event.

How to Get the Most Out of the USGAA

All clubs who affiliate to the USGAA have a say in how their organization is run. However it sometimes requires clubs to make the effort to send delegates to the relevant meetings. If your club does not participate in the meetings, you will not get the most out of it and you will not be in a position to complain when things do not go your way. You have a voice, but you have to make it heard! 


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