Shunde, China – Home of Bruce Lee and the world’s smallest GAA club
Deep in southeastern China, one would likely marvel at the seemingly endless expanses of land and countless silk farms, demonstrating the agricultural prowess that helped make Shunde one of the wealthiest districts in Guangdong Province. One would also be amazed that on one of these many fields, a few Irishmen accompanied by their Canadian companion and more than a few beers, had conceived the Shunde Gaels; the smallest self-proclaimed GAA club in the world.
It wouldn’t be at all surprising if you haven’t heard of the Shunde region, given that it is a modest-sized district in the lesser-known town of Foshan which is overshadowed by the mighty cities. from Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzen. Even the most ardent fan might not know that Shunde is, in fact, the ancestral home of the great Bruce Lee. Shunde’s illustrious son, who exposed the world to Chinese Kung Fu on the big screen, is immortalized there in museums, Bruce Lee Lane and even a theme park called Bruce Lee Paradise.
An even more ardent foodie might know that Shunde was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2014 and is considered the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of Cantonese cuisine.
Yet, premiered in 2019, it’s one of the newest and smallest GAA setups in the world that’s currently making the biggest waves in Shunde.
If the unique jersey with a crest of Bruce Lee hitting a Celtic cross isn’t enough to grab your attention, some of their results against a larger, more experienced Chinese opposition might. Club co-founder and County Down native Ciaran McCann has disclosed a bit more about everything from the club’s design to its burgeoning reputation,
âI played a bit of football for Castlewellan from minors to minors, then for Liverpool Hope Universityâ¦ winning a British championship being the highlight thereâ¦ but that was kind of the end of my career. football career before moving here (Guangdong).
âI started teaching at a local elementary school and lived in an almost private community of foreign teachers outside of Shunde. I moved to China with three guys from Down and because we met another Irish boy and other foreign teachers who were enthusiastic we decided we had enough material for a team so we started.
Despite the cultural chasms between Ireland and China, McCann conceded that a few beers and a few passionate Irish guys were all that was needed for the new Chinese Gaelic football team idea,
âLike most good stories, it started with a few beers. It was March 2019 and we were out after work one day. We were four guys from Down, one guy from Kildare and six other guys that we played football with.
âThe ones we played football with were big physical guys six feet and taller and after showing the non-Irish
guys some Gaelic soccer videos that they seemed keen enough to give away
“With 12 of us out there and knowing that Gaelic in China is up to nine, we knew we could line up a
half-decent outfit at the Pan-Chinese Games. The next day at the school we teach we kicked the soccer ball and let the new guys do a bit of hand catching and passing and they really enjoyed it. So we decided to go ahead, order stuff from O’Neills and get started.
McCann mentioned that 11 of the original 12 players worked at the same school, but that fact hasn’t made the squad less diverse or internationally successful for that matter.
âWe had six guys from Ireland, three brothers from Northern Cyprus, one Canadian guy, one guy from England and one from Scotland.
âWe trained twice a week, updated everyone as much as possible and played our first game against Shenzen after only about a month of training. Shenzen has been a club since 2004 and we managed to beat them first
times we’ve played them, despite the
In fact, we were expecting a whooping cough that gave us the confidence to get started.
A secret ingredient behind this success, perhaps, was a local Tyrone man in the workout setup. Augher’s Pearse McKenna has lived in China for nearly a decade now and has overseen the growth of Gaelic football from Shanghai to Shenzen. Such an experience made him the perfect man to help inexperienced Shunde Gaels to excel in their first season in the Chinese Gaelic arena, as McKenna himself claimed,
âThere is a lot of hard work and commitment in running and maintaining a club in China, attracting new players who have never played before and showing the benefits of an Irish sport in Chinese communities. local.
“The most difficult but also the most important aspect from a training point of view is making sure that this international player base is complimented.
by the core of native Irish players.
Indeed, after this first victory against Shenzen, the team of Shunde Gaels became stronger and stronger.
In their very first tournament in June 2019, they reached the intermediate final of the All-China-Games in Shanghai with eye-catching group stage wins over the more established Suzhou Eire Ogs and another notch over the Shenzhen Celts. .
Along with these two wins, McCann spoke of an even more enjoyable draw against the Shanghai B team; a team of predominantly Irish talent who also won the intermediate title by beating the Shunde Gaels.
However, an early tournament performance not to be overlooked meant McCann’s men had made their mark on the Chinese Gaelic football scene. It was even more impressive considering that one player from Shunde tried to throw the ball from the sideline as a lineout and another, a former ice hockey player in his native Canada, sprinted. on the ground once and screamed for an under-spin after being told to break.
Still, McCann admitted that no one expected the Shunde Gaels to be more than just a one-season wonder and he wasn’t even sure the club would continue at all after the Pan-Chinese Games in 2019.
âFrom there, we kind of thought that was the end of it. We didn’t think we would continue, but the guys got a taste for it. They loved the craic and the post-practice beers, so we regrouped after the summer and started training again in September for the Asian Games in Malaysia in November 2019 â.
This is where McCann noted that it hadn’t been easy for the Shunde Gaels as a small club from scratch.
He explained that they had to put in monumental fundraising efforts selling old jerseys in order to be able to subsidize the expenses of a Malaysian tournament and McCann said that although the results did not follow on that occasion, the tournament was an invaluable experience due to the steep learning curve for some players.
Speaking of jerseys, the Shunde Gaels have one of the best in the world according to the LoafofBread GAA podcast.
The brown and silver stripe, with its crest of Bruce Lee striking a Celtic cross, was voted one of the eight best GAA jerseys in the world to lose in the quarter-finals of the Global GAA World Cup competition Jersey.
The Shunde crest is a shining example of how Irish culture, through the GAA vehicle, is spreading around the world, connecting people and building cultural awareness and understanding. McCann says the sense of community that sums up Gaelic and Hurling football translates well into Chinese culture as the idea of ââcollectivism and taking care of others first is a key value in Chinese society.
The Shunde Gaels represent an opportunity not only for Irish people to celebrate their culture away from home, but also for internationals to try something new and meet new people and for Chinese locals, from a small district like Shunde, to learn and understand people that they could so easily be written off as outsiders.
âThere is a huge sense of community in the club and although we live in a smaller area between two big cities of Foshan and Guangzhou, everyone has heard of us by nowâ¦ we have an ongoing reputation. The locals see what we do as good for the community. The fact that we started out as a tight knit group of friends and now we have guys from America who never played until they traveled an hour to come and train.
âThe club has this feeling of belonging. As for the combination of cultures, the land we train on is in the middle of a big park and it’s crazy because you are surrounded by Tai Chi lessons.
on one side and middle ages
women (he nicknames “crazy singing aunts”) doing karaoke on each other, which can be a training nightmare, but it’s a lot of funâ¦ we can tell we arouse interestâ¦ next steps would be to try to bring more Chinese boys into the club and to encourage closer ties between local sports clubs.
With such ambitious growth plans, it would seem the only way is for the Shunde Gaels who are small in stature but giants of literal and metaphorical stature.
Ultimately, we all know Bruce Lee could have channeled his kicks into solos and sheet music.
l Anyone interested in the Shunde Gaels follow @shunde_gaels on Instagram.
For those interested in GAA around the world, follow @loafofbreadgaa on Instagram for weekly podcasts.