A busy month ahead for Belgium GAA

Over the next month, Belgium GAA will be hosting 3 separate events that anyone can attend. It will be an extremely busy four weeks for the club so make sure to reach out to your code officer or on social media if you can volunteer your time.

Benelux Football Championship – Round 2

Belgium GAA will be hosting the next round of the Benelux Football Championship in Dendermonde Rugby Club on April 15th. Our Ladies team will look to continue their good form after winning the first round and the men’s team is

in with a shout of taking home some silverware. We will be welcoming GAA clubs from the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, & Germany. The clubhouse will also be open to serve some food and beverages for the day so why not make the trip to Dendermonde to watch a great day of football action.

  • Event: Benelux Football Championship – Round 2
  • Location: Dendermonde Rugby Club
  • Date: 15 April 2023
  • Entry fee: Free Admission

Belgium GAA Irish Ceili

The famous Belgium GAA Irish Céilí returns for another year! If you haven’t been to one before, make sure to join us on Saturday the 22nd of April as this is always one of the best nights of the year! Don’t know any Irish dances? Don’t worry, most of us don’t either, but luckily we’ll have our talented instructors on board to lead the way! We’ll have some great live music playing on the night, with drinks and snacks for sale. Come on down, support the club, meet some new people and just generally have good craic! Make sure to wear your county/country colours.

Doors will open at 18:30, and best to be there on time as the first dances will kick off at 19:00. Please support and come down for a laugh as this is a key fundraiser for our club! Tickets are €10 at the door, cash only.

European Hurling/Camogie Championship – Round 2

We’re delighted to announce that Belgium GAA will be hosting clubs from all around Europe for the second round of the European Hurling/Camogie Championship on May 6th. The Camogie competition will take place at the VUB Sports Field from 12pm and the Hurling competition taking place at Kituro Rugby Club from 9am. Admission is free wherever you go and the clubhouse will be open for some drinks and snacks.

  • Event: European Hurling/Camogie Championship – Round 2
  • Location: Kituro Rugby Club (Hurling) | VUB (Camogie)
  • Date: 06 May 2023
  • Entry Fee: Free Admission

Belgium GAA is Recruiting for 2023

The 2023 season begins Monday 13 Feb 2023, and this year’s a big one with all codes looking to win their respective championships. Our club is aiming to add to its 33 European Championships as the most successful club in Europe!

Are you Irish and working/studying in Belgium this year?  Keep your ties with the GAA and join our family.  We’re looking for new members for our HurlingCamogieGaelic Football and Ladies Football teams.  All skill levels and beginners are welcome.

All nationalities are welcome too. We have a total of 20 nationalities in our club and that’s not including Cork!  Why not pick up one of our legendary Irish sports this year? We get to play in tournaments all over Europe and the craic is mighty! If you don’t know what ‘craic’ is then come down to training to find out.

Training sessions

Training is at the VUB, Boulevard de la Plaine 2, 1050 Ixelles. If you want to join up, email: pro.belgium.europe@gaa.ie

Mondays: 19:30–20:30
Thursdays: 20:30–21:30

Mondays: 19:30–20:45
Thursdays: 20:30–21:45

Mondays: 20:30–21:30
Thursdays: 19:30–20:30

Mondays: 20:30–21:45
Thursdays: 19:30–20:45

Volunteers Wanted

Belgium GAA is open to calls for volunteer coaches with the 2023 season approaching. Any interested applicants can get in contact through social media or email: pro.belgium.europe@gaa.ie

Belgium GAA End of Year Dinner and Awards 2022

After 3 years, the club was finally able to have one of the most anticipated nights of the season, the end of year dinner. A great night was had by all and the awards for 2022 were given to the following:

Club Awards

Honorary Lifetime Membership: Barbara Wynne

Barbara Wynne (Centre) collects her Honorary Lifetime Membership from Ladies Football Manager Anay Rios (Left) and Chairperson Marla Candon (Right)

Club Person of the Year: Sean Ryan

Sean Ryan (Centre) collects the Club Person of the Year Awards from Chairperson Marla Candon (Left) and Vice Chairperson Aiden Murphy (Right)

Ladies Football

Player of the Year: Florina Tobon Escobar

Florina Tobon Escobar (Right) collects the Ladies Football Player of the Year Award from Ladies Football Manager, Anay Rios (Left)

Rising Star: Ruth O’Laoide Kelly

Ruth O’Laoide Kelly (Right) collects her Rising Star Award from Ladies Football Manager, Anay Rios (Left)

2021 Player of the Year: Jenny Moore

Jenny Moore (Right) collects the 2021 Ladies Football Player of the Year Award from Ladies Football Manager, Anay Rios (Left)

2021 Rising Star: Jade Tenwick

Jade Tenwick (Left) collects her 2021 Rising Star Award from Ladies Football Manager, Anay Rios (Left)

Mens Football

Player of the Year: Colm O’Flaherty

Colm O’Flaherty (Centre) receives his Player of the Year award from Men’s Football Officer Liam Brosnan (Left) and Ciaran Delargy (Right)

Rising Star: Florian Daniel

Florian Daniel (Centre) receives his Rising Star award from Men’s Football Officer Liam Brosnan (Right) and Ciaran Delargy (Left)


Player of the Year: Jill O’Gorman

Jill O’Gorman (Left) receives her Player of the Year Award from Camogie Management Soline Whooley (Right)

Rising Star: Lili Velazquez

Lili Velazquez (Left) receives her Rising Star Award from Camogie Management Soline Whooley (Right)


Player of the Year: Marcus Cosgrave

Marcus Cosgrave (Centre) receives his Player of the Year Award from Hurling Manager, Donal Mulcahy (Left) and Hurling Officer, Aidan Walshe (Right)

Rising Star: Michael Markey

Michael Markey (Centre) receives his Rising Star award from Hurling Manager, Donal Mulcahy (Left) and Hurling Officer, Aidan Walshe (Right)

The Belgian At The Heart Of Belgium GAA’s Extraordinary Season

This article originally features on Balls.ie (Rory Cassidy)

Florina Tobon didn’t take the typical entry route into GAA. Her mother is from Belgium, her father is from Colombia, neither of which is a gaelic football stronghold. Up until the age of 21 she had never even played a team sport.

Enter Belgium GAA, also known as Craobh Rua. A club founded in Brussels in 2003, whose ladies team was only established by Dubliner Barbara Wynne in 2008.

Tobon, who lives in the capital city, spent a period in Ireland doing an Erasmus. During that time she took up Olympic Handball but upon returning home realised it wasn’t for her. Her affection to Ireland led her to pursue our national sport nearly 1000km away from Croke Park.

“It was my mum that actually told me that at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, where we play and where I studied, there was an Irish team and she encouraged me to go and give it a go,” Tobon explains to Balls.ie.

“I started playing football at the end of the season in 2018.

“I only played for like two months and then the season was over.

“One of my friends convinced me then to play rugby to help me get ready and then once the new season started, I started playing Gaelic football again.”

In the space of four years, Tobon has been on quiet the journey with the team. Last weekend the club made history when they played in the All-Ireland junior club championship quarter-final against Castleblayney Faughs, the first time they had ever reached that stage.

Craobh Rua are one of the great stories of the 2022 club GAA season. One of Europe’s biggest clubs, their ladies team is comprised of more foreign-born players than Irish ones. And thanks to players like Florina, they’ve become a force to be reckoned with.

Belgium were defeated by eight points and with a supporters bus travelling from Brussels to Maastricht in The Netherlands for the game, it will live long in the memories of the team.

“It was intense, it was a tough game.

“Even though we lost, I think we’re really happy with our performance and how far we’ve come.

“At the end of the game we were really happy with the score.

“We did our best, we had fun and I think we can be proud of ourselves,” Tobon says.

The performance is even more commendable given the fact that a number of the Belgium players hadn’t played fifteen a side matches until a couple of months ago.

“It has been a whole new experience (this year) because we are used to playing nine a side in Europe, fifteen a side is something we don’t do at all.

“In Europe we have our regionals, so we play in the Benelux Regionals.

“We play against teams from the Netherlands, Luxembourg and sometimes there’s a few teams from Germany that would join in.

“The games we are nine a side and it’s ten minutes a half.

“Once that is over, we have the pan Euros.

“It’s the same format, the final is usually a small bit longer, maybe 12 or 15 minutes a half.”

Belgium have had great success in the nine a side games. The club have won twelve out of the thirteen European Championships they have played in and this year won every European tournament they played in including the Benelux Regionals and pan Euros.

Journey to the All-Ireland quarter-final for Belgium GAA

To get to the All-Ireland quarter-final they saw off the challenge of Rennes before beating British champions Hugh O’Neills in Leeds, a victory that came as a surprise.

“We went in with no expectations, we were just there and we decided to just have fun and see how it went,” Tobon says of that win.

“We didn’t think much of it and we managed to beat them.

“We couldn’t believe it!”

This year the side has been managed by a Longford man. Cosmos Gilmore from Rathcline reached out to the club on Facebook messenger saying he could help with coaching a football team. The ladies jumped at the opportunity and Gilmore who is managing a ladies team for the first time has led them to new heights.

Gilmore has an impressive CV, having served as a selector under Donal Ó Fátharta, as Galway won the All-Ireland U20 football title in Croke Park in 2020.

“Cosmos has been training us this year and we really noticed the difference.

“It’s been great to have him in the club,” Tobon adds.

Belgium GAA looking forward to a big 2023

Belgium GAA are determined to continue their improvement under Gilmore next season.

“We are really eager to go to the next level.

“We had very little experience in fifteen a side, so playing three games with those numbers was a big deal for us.

“We learned a lot from playing against teams that are actually used to it.

“We’ve seen how far we can come and hopefully we can go even further next year.”

That could even present Florina with her first ever opportunity to play a match on Irish soil.

“I haven’t played in Ireland but I’d love to.

“Even a friendly, I think we might be looking into getting more fifteen a side games next year.

“Why not travel all the way to Ireland to play against an Irish team?”

After an impressive showing last weekend, Craobh Rua would certainly fancy their chances of taking a scalp away from home.

Off The Ball AM: Jenny Moore of Belgium GAA talks about the epic journey to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final

@BelgiumGAA‘s Craobh Rua went on a remarkable run to the All-Ireland JFC quarterfinal at the weekend where they lost to @BlayneyFaughs. Belgium GAA Ladies Football Officer and midfielder Jenny Moore joins Ger and Shane on #OTBAM after the team’s sensational season culminated in an All-Ireland JFC quarter-final.

You can watch the full interview here:

Belgium GAA V Castleblayney Faughs (Monaghan) – Ladies Football Match Report

Belgium GAA: 5-2 (17)

Castleblayney Faughs: 2-19 (25)

Maastricht, The Netherland 20/11/2022

An extraordinary year for the Belgium GAA ladies football team came to an extraordinary end as they faced off against the Ulster champions, Castleblayney Faughs (Monaghan)  in the All Ireland Junior Club Championship Quarter Final.

Belgium GAA and Castleblayney Faughs at full time

It was a cold Sunday morning in Maastricht as our ladies team prepared for another historical day in the club. The game started with a great defensive performance from both teams, with the score being 0-01 to 0-02 to the Faughs after 10 minutes with Clara Lambert getting the opening score for Belgium. Some key blocks were made during the first half to hold off the Faughs especially coming from Aisling Fenton and Grainne Alyward. The Faughs continued to get scores as the first half continued making it 0-01 to 0-04. Belgium had a great response after that in the 15th minute as Jenny Moore kicked the ball into the forward line and Clara Lambert read the bounce well to collect it, the ball was passed around in the square where Clara was fouled and awarded a penalty. Lambert then stood up and calmly slotted a great penalty into the back of the net, tying up the game at 1-01: 0-04.

45 seconds later Castleblayney were able to respond and get a goal for themselves to retain their 3-point lead after 15 minutes. For the next 15 minutes, Belgium defended well to only conceded 1 point in that period and Clara Lambert slotted over a free kick just before the half-time interval making it 1:02 – 1:05 with it all to play for.

Great support from both teams in Maastricht

The Faughs started the 2nd half with a point making it a 4-point game but it was Belgium who had a stronger start to the half with Clara Lambert (again) sticking the ball into the back of the net with a neat finish as she fell to the ground in the 33rd minute. The Faughs got another point after the goal to make it 2 point gap after 37 minutes. With the score being 2-02 to 1-07, Belgium could feel they were getting close and to keep fighting. An attempt from Jenny Moore saw the ball hit the crossbar and fall to Margaux Mansanarez who batted the ball into the back of the net. For the first time in the game, Belgium were in the lead 3-02 to 1-07 with 20 minutes to go. Unfortunately, Castleblayney’s class was shown and they were able to move up a gear scoring 1-09 with no response over a 10-minute period making it 3-02 to 2-16.

In the 57th minute, Marla Candon found a gap and handpassed it across the goals where Margaux added a second goal to her tally to bring the gap back to 8 points. The Faughs were able to respond with 2 points afterwards bringing it into injury time. Belgium wasn’t finished as Aine Charlton (surname pronounced the same as Jackie Charlton) still had the energy to run down the centre of the pitch, hand pass it to Clara who stuck it in the back of the net to get her hattrick. “Goals, Goals, Goals for Belgium..but it may be too little too late,” said the commentator as the full-time whistle was looming. The Faughs managed to get the last point of the game making the full-time score 5-02 to 2-19.

Back Row (L-R): Caragh O’Connor, Jill O’Gorman, Beatriz Machado, Fionnuala Flynn, Annie-Rose Deegan, Clíona McDonnell, Aileen Glynn, Sonja Beekman, Ríoghnach Hyland, Alexandra Sitekova, Lola Woydt, Gráinne Aylward, Jenny Moore, Clara Lambert, Eimear Murphy, Amy Keane, Jade Tenwick, Cosmas Gilmore (Manager)

Front Row (L-R): Aisling Fenton, Anay Rios, Margaux Mansanarez, Frosso Taprantzi, Orla Butler, Áine Charlton, Elena Postantzi, Danielle Brady, Rachel Corcoran, Ruth O’Laoide Kelly, Marla Candon (C), Florina Tobon Escobar

A great performance from the women in red who should be very proud to come close to the Ulster Champions who had some excellent players. A special shout-out to Tony Bass from Maastricht Gaels, who put in a lot of work to make this fixture happen and also togged out as linesman for the day. The season officially comes to an end with an extraordinary team going above and beyond with the ladies footballers getting this far. The players cannot talk highly enough about this year’s manager Cosmos Gilmore who had a massive impact on this unbelievable year. This team had a great performance and made everyone in this little club of ours proud. This being the last report of the year, both women’s teams (Football and Camogie) ensured that every single article in 2022 had a positive outcome and that silverware was returning back to the EU capital. This makes Mr PRO’s job a lot easier, so it is very much appreciated and we can’t wait for 2023 as the club aims to continue adding more silverware to their 34 European Championships. Ár míle buíochas libh ar fad.

Craobh Rua 2022
Ríoghnach Hyland
Aisling Fenton
Gráinne Aylward
Lola Woydt
Áine Charlton
Rachel Corcoran
Margaux Mansanarez
Jenny Moore
Florina Tobon Escobar
Caragh O’Connor
Clara Lambert
Orla Butler
Ana Rios
Aileen Glynn
Marla Candon (C)
16Ruth O’Laoide Kelly (Kerry/Limerick)
17Clíona McDonnell (Dublin)
31Jade Tenwick (South Africa/Cork)
19Frosso Taprantzi (Greece)
20Danielle Brady (Cavan)
21Sonja Beekman (Australia)
22Jill O’Gorman (Cork)
23Alexandra Sitekova (Slovakia)
24Eimear Murphy (Mayo)
25Annie-Rose Deegan (Carlow/Laois)
26Beatriz Machado (Brazil)
27Elena Postantzi (Greece)
28Aimée McGrath (Kildare)
29Amy Keane (Mayo)
30Fionnuala Flynn (Cavan)

Belgium GAA exit All-Ireland club championship in eight-point defeat

This article originally features on The 42.ie

Castleblayney Faughs booked their place in the All-Ireland club junior semi-finals with an eight-point win in Maastricht.

Castleblayney Faughs 2-19
Belgium GAA 5-2

BELGIUM GAA’S CLUB championship run came to an end on Sunday morning as they were beaten by Castleblayney Faughs in Maastricht.

Ulster champions Castleblayney ran out eight-point winners to book their place in the All-Ireland club junior championship semi-finals.

Belgium GAA had already made history earlier this month when they became the first European club to win a match in the All-Ireland series.

They scored the game’s opening goal through a penalty from Clara Lambert but trailed by three points at the break, 1-5 to 1-2.

Lambert’s second goal of the afternoon reduced that deficit to the minimum early in the second half before Margaux Mansanarez edged Belgium into the lead, 3-2 to 1-7.

But Castleblayney wrestled control of the tie, thanks in no small part to the firepower of full-forward Jodie McQuillan, and Aoibheann McCooey’s goal established a comfortable nine-point advantage as the game entered the last 10 minutes.

Belgium dug in and late goals from Mansanarez and Lambert, completing her hat-trick, left the final margin at eight points as Castleblayney marched on to the semis.

The remarkable rise of multicultural Belgium GAA to an All-Ireland quarter-final

The original article featured on The 42.ie (Emma Duffy)

Marla Candon tells the team’s story as all roads lead to Maastricht in Holland for Sunday’s showdown against Monaghan side Castleblaney.

THERE WAS, INDEED, a real sense this was a massive achievement.

Craobh Rua of Belgium, or Belgium GAA, booked an unlikely All-Ireland ladies club football junior championship quarter-final spot after a 2-6 to 0-8 victory away to Leeds outfit Hugh O’Neills two weeks ago.

Next up is a showdown against Ulster champions Castleblaney Faughs of Monaghan in Maastricht, Holland, on Sunday morning.

“People can’t get over it,” chairperson, current captain and star forward Marla Candon beams. “And I think Leeds got a fierce auld shock as well!”

Belgium GAA is one of two clubs in the country, and one of the biggest in Europe, competing across men’s and ladies Gaelic football, along with hurling and camogie.

Candon hails from Roscommon. A former inter-county player with the Rossies and captain of Dublin club heavyweights Foxrock-Cabinteely — along with the 2007 TG4 Underdogs — Candon was seconded to Belgium for work, and is the assistant deputy director of The European School in Brussels. 

A latecomer to Gaelic football — “I only picked it up at the age of 24 or 25,” she explains, recalling her early days teaching in Hollypark — basketball is her first sport. Like several involved with the club. More on that shortly.

Speaking to a Leeds player after the preliminary clash, the pair discovered they had played against one another in the ’07 All-Ireland junior club semi-final, Candon for Fox-Cab, her opponent for Latton of Monaghan.

“What is it now? Jesus, 15 years later,” she grins.

“When I left in 2015 and came to Belgium, my last game for Foxrock-Cabinteely was a senior All-Ireland semi-final against Donaghmoyne. I suppose I left football at the top level. Coming over here, I was well in my late 30s at that stage, so it was nice to step away from… although I missed it, it was very intense with work so I couldn’t give as much time as I wanted to to football.

“Playing football in this way allowed me to travel and meet new people, but it also allowed for someone who is supremely mad about sport and loves to play at a high level to kind of gracefully bow out or find another level.

“And then to have another challenge in bringing others on. Now, in the real twilight of my career, to be in a position where we’re in an All-Ireland quarter-final is just phenomenal… phenomenal.”

A tweet went around after that monumental victory in England saying it was ground-breaking — the first-ever win by a European ladies football side in the All-Ireland club championships.

Turns out it wasn’t, but the height of the achievement remains.

“We had won a preliminary round before, apparently in 2014, according to Anay Rios, who’s been on the team for a number of years,” Candon explains.

“She predates me, she’s a Spanish girl. But in my lifetime, we’ve played Birmingham, Glasgow and then another London team. Twice, we travelled to the UK. And once, we had a team come over to us and we’ve never never got any further.

“There’s been an appetite for competition after the two years of Covid. We’re unbeaten in all the tournaments we go to, but girls aren’t used to playing 15-a-side. Against Leeds, it was like, ‘There’s no expectations here. Just go and enjoy yourselves and try to be better than your marker.’ The result was not expected. But at the same time, the capabilities are there. It was brilliant.

“The Irish on the team know how important it is, and the non-Irish went to huge lengths as well to be part of it. The efforts that the team have gone to is just phenomenal. They’ve spent a lot of money to be involved, and all the travel. Ah, it’s just brilliant.”

Belgium GAA generally play nine-a-side, with Longford man Cosmos Gilmore at the helm. “Cosmos is superb, and he adapted a style of play for us for 9s, but it was evident even in the way we play in 15s – support play and running off the shoulder. His handprint is on the team, and he’s part of the reason we’ve done so well this season.”

Of the 19 players that featured in Leeds, just eight are Irish. Roscommon, Kerry, Mayo, Cavan, Meath, Kildare, and Laois were all represented. Where else? Belgium, of course, and then there’s Greece, France, Spain, Denmark, South Africa, Spain, Australia and Sweden. Multicultural, to say the very least.

“Anyone who has an adventurous spirit gets involved… it brings people together,” Candon smiles, explaining how most of her team-mates are all-rounders.

Candon (back row, second from left) representing Roscommon at the 2011 TG4 Ladies Football Championship Launch.Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

A lot of Candon’s team-mates have a background in basketball, like herself, while others have played soccer, rugby, and Aussie Rules; they have the skills and athleticism from a range of other sports and are adaptable. Others may have family in Ireland or other links. It’s a case of learning the rules, and going form there.

Candon tells some amazing stories: how Greek-Belgian goalkeeper Elena Postanzi had to go on a wild goose chase back to Athens to renew her passport before the trip to Leeds; how main scoring forward Clara Lambert is Danish, but often mistaken for being Irish because of her accent; how the aforementioned Rios — christened The Spanish Gooch by Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh – has been there since day dot and is “an encyclopaedia” of Gaelic football.

Then there’s the six-hour round-trips for games, the scraping together of players at times.

The commitment. The sacrifice. The will and desire.

“It’s really a club effort,” she nods.

And always has been.

Belgium GAA was established in 2003, with Dubliner Barbara Wynne one of the founding members. In the early 2000s, Wynne would have went to The Hague to play her football, Candon reveals, mentioning several other ’originals’ who ultimately came together to form one of the cornerstones of the Irish ex-pat community in Belgium.

Spanish ‘Gooch’ hoping to lead Belgian Gaels to historic breakthrough

The article originally features on Sky Sports, RTÉ, Her Sport, and The Independent (Daragh Small)

She was once nicknamed ‘the Spanish Gooch’ by Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh.

She stands 165cm tall, speaks multiple languages, hails from Andalucia and Sunday’s currentaccount.ie All-Ireland Junior Club quarter-final will mean that bit more for Anay Rios.

The diminutive Spaniard has seen it all and done it all across Europe, but playing in an All-Ireland semi-final is the new dream now and she could move step closer with a win in Maastricht.

Monaghan’s Castleblayney Faughs stand in the way of Belgium’s Craobh Rua and an unprecedented slot in the final four but it won’t be for the want of trying for Rios and her committed teammates, who fight climate change by sending their CO2 emissions compensation money to BOS+ after every away day, in order to plant trees.

“I’m very nervous and excited at the same time. We are the underdogs but I am incredibly proud and happy to be part of this team and I’m confident we will show our best football,” said Rios.

“I am convinced that, regardless of the result, we will be better footballers for playing this match.”

Rios is from a town in the mountains of the province of Cadiz in the south of Spain – and she has played football for Gibraltar, La Coruna, and Sevilla.

But even before she picked up a Gaelic football, she had tried her hand at hurdle running, soccer, rugby, and handball, the latter of which she went on to represent PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

“It was kind of a high-level team. Of course, my position changed because, in Spain, I was playing in the middle and there the average size of my players was 180cm so I went to the wing.

“It’s better to be somewhat small and mobile if you’re on the wings.

“It was very, very competitive playing for them. And also they have been playing together since they were young. So when I was there in my early 20s, and then trying to take the position of some people, it was not always easy.”

Some of the Belgium team pictured with Michael O Muircheartaigh in Abu Dhabi

Rios’ linguistic expertise and her job in the European Commission ensured she travelled throughout Europe and further afield. Her soccer career took shape when she was working in Russia.

Her path was slowly taking her towards Ladies football and through an Irish national, who was captain of her soccer team, she learned about Gaelic games.

Belgium GAA had been set up in 2003 and five years later Rios was there to witness the formation of their new Ladies football team. Barbara Wynne was the central figure behind all of this, and the Dublin native linked up with the likes of long-serving player Caragh O’Connor on St Patrick’s Day in 2008 to bring the plan to fruition.

“They decided to do an exhibition match and they called people that could be available,” said Rios.

“And one person said to me, ‘oh why don’t you come along?’. So I played the game. The first half, I didn’t like it, because they wouldn’t pass me the ball. So in the second half, I decided to just run after the ball.

“I was diving for the ball because I didn’t know the rules, obviously it was my first match ever. But when I finished, the referee told me, ‘oh, you could be a real player if you learn the rules’.

“And then also Barbara Wynne approached me and told me, ‘look, I’m thinking about creating a team for girls because Belgium GAA was created already but only for hurlers’.

“She asked me if I would like to try and to play and I said, ‘well, I had a lot of fun today so why not?’”

It was the start of something special for a team and club that would go on to dominate the European landscape in Ladies football.

They have won 12 continental crowns since and have had representatives from 21 countries across the globe.

This year they got to this stage thanks to a brilliant victory over British champions Hugh O’Neill’s in Leeds two weeks ago.

And the team led by Rios, who is also joint manager, and Longford man, a former Galway U-20 All-Ireland winning coach Cosmos Gilmore, has a unique backstory.

Given their location in the administrative centre of the European Union, it has led to many interesting subplots, such as good luck messages on Twitter this week from their Honorary President, MEP Seán Kelly.

The team trains at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the home of Celtic Rugby Club in Brussels, a base that actually works out well for the team considering the connected nature of the relatively small city.

“I had the opportunity of meeting an amazing, a lovely man and also a great coach that was Éamonn Ryan.”

Their home pitch is too small for tomorrow’s fixture but Maastricht will be their adopted home, with special supporters’ buses chartered for the trip across the border.

Rios has played across the backline and midfield for Belgium but will likely line out up front against Castleblayney.

Her story has brought her to Ireland too, from weddings in Kerry and Down to birthdays on Clare Island, holidays in Donegal and Galway, foraging blueberries in Wicklow to even canvassing in Cork.

She loves Ireland and has even attempted to add Gaeilge to her language repertoire, while she has other unusual threads that tie her to the country and the game.

“I once had to mark Anna Geary when she was playing for Luxembourg,” said Rios.

“I remember when they were telling me, ‘Anay, that’s the one you’re going to mark’. And I was like she’s on fire in this tournament’. She was really on fire.

“Like I saw her afterwards playing camogie too but playing football, she was absolutely brilliant, brilliant. We had our fights on the field but at the end she was very nice. She was a nice girl and very competitive.”

Rios gets emotional when she remembers another Cork great, the late former Ladies football supremo, Éamonn Ryan [pictured above].

“I had the opportunity of meeting an amazing, a lovely man and also a great coach that was Éamonn Ryan. I get emotional here because he’s not with us anymore.

“We invited him to come to Belgium. I cannot remember now, it was maybe through David Barrett, who is from Cork and also I think it’s a family friend.

“I learned a lot from Éamonn, not just sports wise when he was giving the training session, but he actually stayed in my house so I really had a few days knowing the person and he was just amazing.

“And also the way he was speaking about his players. He had so much admiration for all of them. So it was great that it was mutual because I am sure they have a lot of admiration for him but he was really like, you know, really devoted to them and we loved that.”

Another great of the Gaelic games holds a fond place in Rios’ heart, and that is Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, who has commentated on a couple of Belgium games in the past.

She jokes that when she kicked a wide during a game against Paris Gaels, Ó Muircheartaigh gave one of his brilliant lines: ‘The Spanish Gooch kicks for the point but the ball goes to Spain’.

Hopefully, tomorrow, Rios and her teammates can find their range instead.

Belgium united by passion for the game as they prepare for ‘Blayney showdown – The Irish Times

Original Article by The Irish Times here (Mary Hannigan)

Ulster champions may feel like they are taking on the United Nations when they face Brussels-based Craobh Rua in All-Ireland JFC quarter-final in Maastricht

Safe to say, this fixture stood out in the list issued by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association earlier this week:

“All-Ireland Junior Club Championship – quarter-final: Craobh Rua (Belgium) v Castleblayney Faughs (Monaghan), 11am CET/10am GMT, Maastricht, Holland.”

Blayney v Belgium, then, is one of the year’s quirkier sporting contests, and while the bulk of the Monaghan players come from in or around the town, the list of home places of some of the Belgian panel will make them feel like they’re taking on the United Nations.

Deep breath: Kiltimagh, Johannesburg, Newbridge, Andalucía, Roosky, Nantes, Killeshandra, Adelaide, Maynooth, Copenhagen, Kilrush, Athens, Dungourney, Gothenburg, Lucan, São Paulo, Ballina, Maryland . . . . even the mighty Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh could struggle, over the course of a mere 60 minutes, to squeeze in the biographical details of that group.

He would, though, no doubt, point out that half of those places are not Gaelic football strongholds.

But there has been a distinct international flavour to Belgium GAA – or Craobh Rua, the ‘Red Branch’ – since the club was founded in 2003, a women’s section added to the set-up five years later when Dubliner Barbara Wynne tired of having to travel to the Netherlands to get her fix of Gaelic football.

From the off, they attracted an array of nationalities, many of them team-mates of Belgian-based Irish women in other sports, like basketball, soccer, netball and handball, all of them intrigued by this peculiar spectacle that seemed to be a hybrid of all those codes.

“Most of them are just natural at sport, so they adapted really quickly,” says Belgium midfielder Jenny Moore, a former Kildare minor footballer who now works in the European Parliament.

“Although some of them were double-hopping at the start, so it took time to get the hang of it,” she laughs.

Now, she says, there are few more committed to the cause than the ‘non-Irish’, seven of whom were in the starting line-up for the victory over British champions Hugh O’Neills in Leeds the weekend before last, the result that earned them this meeting with the Ulster champions.

An example of that commitment? Look no further than the team’s Greek goalkeeper Elena Postantzi.

“When we found out that we had to go to the UK to play Hugh O’Neills, Elena realised that her passport had expired,” says Moore.

“There was no appointment available in the Greek embassy in Brussels until April, so her only option was to fly to Greece to get it renewed, so she flew from Lille to Athens on a red-eye flight. Their passport office runs on a first-come-first-served basis, so her father started queuing for her early in the morning. She got her passport and flew back to Brussels via Crete on the same day because she had to be back in work next morning.”

“Greece will not send passports by post so, Elena had to go back to Athens the following week to collect it. So she flew to Greece from Charleroi on the red-eye, collected the passport, flew to Manchester on the same day, on to Leeds, the train strikes complicating things, all just in the nick of time to keep a clean sheet in our match against Hugh O’Neills the next day.”

You’d be exhausted just reading that.

The last time Belgium reached this stage of the competition was eight years ago, when they became the first continental Europe-based club to achieve the feat.

Moore credits manager Cosmos Gilmore, the Longford man whose CV includes leading the Galway men’s’ under-20 side to All-Ireland success in 2020, for the team’s progress this year.

“Before Cosmos arrived, we kind of trained ourselves. But then he moved to Belgium and was looking for a team to coach – we were the lucky team to get him. He brought way more intensity to our training sessions and I think he has brought us up a level.”

“After we beat Hugh O’Neills, he told us that Castleblayney would be a different, much tougher challenge. We’d be coming up against a club, a proper parish team. But as Anay Rios said, our team is our own parish, our bond is just as tight.”

Rios, from Andalucía in Spain, was on that original 2008 team, since then winning 12 European titles, Belgium by far the dominant force in the women’s game on the continent.

“But the growth in the women’s game around Europe has been huge,” says Moore, “there are around 100 clubs now in 24, 25 countries, there are new clubs coming on the scene every year.

“Warsaw, for example, has quite a big club because there are a lot of people there studying veterinary. We have a lot players who work for the EU or in the private sector, so that’s where most of our panel come from.”

“Our club is entirely player-run, our whole committee is made up of players, and we have around 50 now across football and camogie. Marla Candon [ex Roscommon and Foxrock Cabinteely] is our chairperson and captain this year, and I’m involved in organising the travel to games and tournaments.”

While the club receives a grant from the LGFA for the travel and accommodation costs accrued by their involvement in the All-Ireland club championship, they have to stump up themselves for their European competition through the year, their travels taking them to tournaments in France, the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark and beyond.

“Yeah, but we love it,” says Moore, dismissing any talk of financial hardship.

“It’s a lovely community, it’s a bit of Ireland away from home, most of my friends in Brussels now are people I met at the club. We all hang out together, some of us live together, if we need help with anything – accommodation, job-hunting, putting up a visiting friend, whatever – we’re all there for each other in our WhatsApp group. We’ve bonded as friends off the pitch as much as we have on it. If you don’t have family here, it becomes your family.”

All they lack, for now, is a pitch big enough to host All-Ireland championship games, hence the need to make the one-hour journey to Maastricht to take on Castleblayney, their pitch at their Celtic Rugby Club base in Brussels not the required size.

The odds are firmly against them, Moore conceding that “once you go out of Europe, the level is much higher – it’ll be very hard on Sunday. But we were underdogs in Leeds and managed to pull off the win, so we’ll be hoping to do it again”.

The parish of Brussels will, then, give it a crack against Blayney.

Belgium Abú.