2018 All-Britain Competition set to be biggest yet
By Damian Dolan
This year’s All-Britain Competition (ABC) looks set to be the biggest yet with nearly 2,500 boys and girls expected to take part – an increase of 400 on last year.
The four-day celebration of Irish culture, incorporating music and dance, as well as Gaelic football, hurling and camogie, gets underway on Thursday (12 July) at Tir Chonaill Park in Greenford.
That figure represents a significant increase in participants for the ABC, which is now in its seventh year.
In 2012, that figure was approximately 750 as more than 60 GAA clubs from across Britain descended upon west London for the inaugural tournament – a two-day feast of Gaelic football, hurling and camogie.
The first-ever ABC had originally been fixed for July of 2012, but rain forced it to be postponed and a new date fixed for September.
Year-on-year the competition has grown significantly since then, swelled by the introduction of school teams to join GAA clubs from across the GAA counties of Britain, excluding Scotland due to their different school holiday times.
The ABC committee is expecting at least 26 primary schools to take part this year – a figure on a par with 2017. The biggest increase is at secondary school level. Twenty took part in 2017, but that figure is set to rise to 41 this year.
“Everything has gone really well; there will be possibly 2,500 attendees due to the large increase in school participation,” said ABC Committee Chairperson Michael Kington, speaking to the Irish World.
Kingston attributes the ever-increasing success of the ABC to the incredible hard work of its committee, both today and in previous years, and to the commitment of so many different organisations and individuals.
“There are some great people on the committee and there is great support and a real understanding of a how a collaborative approach can make a significant difference,” he said.
“The GAA, the Irish government, the Embassy of Ireland, our great sponsors, the support of the media across the board, and ordinary people in the community, all working together and realising that we really can achieve something here.”
Not just a flagship tournament for the GAA in Britain, the ABC now reflects the importance of Irish culture abroad.
“It’s an incredibly important continuation of Irish cultural tradition of gathering, and not just for sport, but for other components such as music and dance, which go down into the annals of Irish folklore,” said Kingston, who is in his second year as ABC chairperson.
Which is why entertainment over the event will come from the Feith an Cheoil School of Music in Enfield, north London, in conjunction with Comhaltas, which promotes traditional Irish music and culture around the world.
Also in attendance will be the Irish in Britain (formerly the Federation of Irish Societies) promoting its ‘Green Hearts’ initiative, which encourages health, well–being and healthy years of life among the Irish community in Britain. They will be offering free health screenings.
The ABC has clearly developed into more than just a GAA tournament – it’s a celebration of Irish culture.
But at its core remains Gaelic Games and joining the 2,500 participants during the course of the four days will be John Horan, GAA President, Helen O’Rourke, CEO of Ladies Gaelic Football, Marie Hickey, President of Ladies Gaelic Football, Michael Hasson, President of the Ulster Council and Eugene Young, Director of Coaching and Games Development at Ulster GAA.
They’ll be joined by Ciaran Cannon, Minister for the Diaspora and International Development, and Adrian O’Neill, Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK, and his wife Aisling.
Recognising the need to promote hurling in Britain at underage level, the main pitch will be the stage on Sunday for an Under 13 exhibition match in recognition of the sport’s “important” place in the Irish psyche and as part of the effort to “build” it.
As the ABC has grown since 2012, so too has its diversity, with an ever-increasing number of participants having no Irish family connection. For Kingston, it’s a “demonstration of friendship and collaborative approach of Irish culture”.
He said: “We’re proud to work closely with the communities where we are based and enrich them – not just the descendants of Irish people, but the whole community of all backgrounds are involved in the tournament.”
This year’s event will see the ABC showing the way for the GAA, in conjunction with Croke Park and tournament sponsor Electricity Supply Board (ESB), in the battle against plastic waste in the environment.
All participants will be issued with a reusable water bottle upon registering which they will be able to refill from water bowsers, in a “small but important attempt to reduce it [plastic waste]”.
The announcement, which was made at last month’s official ABC launch at the Irish Embassy in London, coincided with Croke Park’s move to ban single-use plastics in an effort to combat pollution.
A partner and marine, trade & energy lawyer at DWF LLP law firm in London, Kinston’s area of expertise is international environmental issues and as recent as May he presented on behalf of the eight artic states, their regional strategy for plastics reduction to Westminster.
“I thought it would be good to take it a step further and have it as a formal theme, and liaised with Croke Park and drove that forward,” Kingston explained.
“We’re really leading the way for the GAA in conjunction with Croke Park. It’s the right thing to do.”
The cross community team from Northern Ireland, Cúchulainns GAA, will also be returning to the ABC.
All Britain Competition Schedule
Thursday 12th July
Primary Schools (10.30am – 2.30pm)
Friday 13th July
Secondary Schools (10.30am – 2.30pm)
U-8/10 Go Games (3.30pm – 7pm)
Saturday 14th July
U-11 and U-15 Boys Football (10.30am – 7pm)
U-12 and U-16 Girls Football (10.30am – 7pm)
Sunday 15th July
U-13 and U-17 Boys Football (10.30am – 7pm)
U-14 and U-18 Girls Football (10.30am – 7pm)
Hurling/Camogie (10.30am – 7pm)