Club Info


About Gaelic Football

To learn more about Gaelic football and Hurling visit the official G.A.A. site.

History of Gaelic Football

Bardic sources provide an insight into the character of the pre-GAA games. Hurling predominates, but there are also references to football. Fragments of the ancient Brehon Laws show that hurling was regulated from at least the eighth century. After the Norman invasion of the 12th century, hurling was proscribed by the English Crown. The first record of Gaelic football is in the Statutes of Galway (1527) which allowed the playing of football but banned hurling. The earliest reported match took place at Slane, Co. Meath in 1712 when Meath played their neighbors, Louth. Foreign visitors to Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries noted that hurling and football occupied an important place in the social life of the community. At that time a team consisted of all the able-bodied men of a town or parish; the number of players on each team ranged from 25 to 100. Frequently the game started at a point midway between two towns or parishes and ended when one team had driven the ball across a boundary line into its opponent's town or parish.

Gaelic Football can be described as a mixture of soccer and rugby, although it predates both of those games. It is a field game which has developed as a distinct game similar to the progression of Australian Rules. Indeed it is thought that Australian Rules evolved from Gaelic Football through the many thousands who were either deported or emigrated to Australia from the middle of the twentieth century.

The Modern Game

In August 1884 Micheal Cusack and Maurice Davin met a group of nationalists in Loughrea, County Galway, and outlined their plans to establish a national organization, the Gaelic Athletic Association, for Irish athletes and to revive hurling. Dr. T. W. Croke, (Archbishop of Cashel) became the first patron of the Association, and Croke Park in Dublin (the Association Headquarters) is named in his honor.

The Gaelic Athletic Association is more than a sporting organization. Although it is dedicated to promoting the games of hurling, football, handball, rounders, and camogie, the Association also supports activities which enrich the culture of the nation and further Gaelic ideals, including the Irish language and Irish music and dance. The GAA endeavors to strengthen pride in the communities it serves.

The GAA is the largest sporting organization in Ireland, boasting 2,800 clubs comprising of approximately 182,000 footballers and 97,000 hurlers. Membership of the GAA exceeds 800,000 at home and abroad ensuring its role as a powerful national movement with an important social and cultural influence in Irish life.

The players are all amateurs, and so are playing for "the glory of the parish pump". Games are organized along age group levels. Players are classed as juvenile up to 16, minor up till 18, and Senior from there on up. Additionally under 21 games are organized at an inter-county level, in order to give younger players regular games throughout the season. There are two other groupings, junior and intermediate but these are based on skill rather than age. As well as this, the games are played at schools and colleges levels at varying standards, which at college level, oft times rival inter county under 21 standards.

During the summer months, the All-Ireland championships takes place. It is the dream of every player in the country to win an All-Ireland medal for his county. This is seen by all as the ultimate goal. The championships are first played province by province. Each of the four provincial champions then play in All-Ireland semi-finals, and the subsequent winners in the All-Ireland final.

Gaelic Football is played on a pitch approximately 137m long and 82m wide. The goalposts are the same shape as on a rugby pitch, with the crossbar lower than a rugby one and slightly higher than a soccer one. The ball used in Gaelic Football is round, slightly smaller than a soccer ball. It can be carried in the hand for a distance of four steps and can be kicked or "hand-passed", a striking motion with the hand or fist. After every four steps the ball must be either bounced or "solo-ed", an action of dropping the ball onto the foot and kicking it back into the hand. When played by men, the ball may not be picked directly from the ground. You may not bounce the ball twice in a row. To score, you put the ball over the crossbar by foot or handfist for one point or under the crossbar and into the net by foot or the handfist in certain circumstances for a goal, the latter being the equivalent of three points. Physical contact is allowed, shoulder to shoulder.

Each team consists of fifteen players, lining out as follows: One goalkeeper, three full-backs, three half-backs, two midfielders, three half-forwards and three full-forwards. The actual line out on the playing field is as follows:

15 = Left-corner-forward
14 = Full-forward
13 = Right-corner-forward
12 = Left-half-forward
11 = Centre-half-forward
10 = Right-half-forward
9 = Midfielder
8 = Midfielder
7 = Left-half-back
6 = Centre-half-back
5 = Right-half-back
4 = Left-corner-back
3 = Full-back
2 = Right-corner-back
1 = Goalkeeper

Players wear a jersey with their team colours and number on the back. Both teams must have different colour jerseys. The goalkeepers' jerseys must not be similar to the jersey of any other player. Referees normally tog out in black jerseys, socks and togs

Goalkeepers may not be physically challenged whilst inside their own small parallelogram, but players may harass them into playing a bad pass, or block an attempted pass.

Teams are allowed a maximum of three substitutes in a game. Players may switch positions on the field of play as much as they wish but this is usually on the instructions of team officials.

Officials for a game comprise of a referee, two linesmen (to indicate when the ball leaves the field of play at the side and to mark '45' free kicks and 4 umpires (to signal scores, assist the referee in controlling the games, and to assist linesmen in positioning '45' frees).

A goal is signalled by raising a green flag, placed to the left of the goal. A point is signalled by raising a white flag, placed to the right of goal. A '45' is signalled by the umpire raising his/her outside arm. A 'square ball', when a player scores having arrived in the 'square' prior to receiving the ball, is signalled by pointing at the small parallelogram.

If you see a result like Team A 2-10, Team B 1-14, it will mean that Team A has scored 2 goals and 10 points what altogether makes 16 points. Team B has won because 1 goal and 14 points makes 17 points altogether.

Game Rules
Technical Fouls

This section deals with fouls 'against the ball', i.e. fouls committed by a player, which do not infringe on another player.

  • Players may not lift the ball directly from the ground. The toe may be used to lift the ball from the ground, into the hands. If a player illegally lifts the ball from the ground, the opposing team regains possession, and a free is taken from the point where the foul occurred.

  • When in possession of the ball, a player may take no more than four steps while holding the ball. He may however, start on a 'solo-run', dropping the ball from hand to foot, and playing it back to the hand 'toe-tap'. If a player takes more than four steps with the ball in his hand, a free to the opposing team is awarded.

  • A player may pass the ball using either the hand ('hand pass') or by kicking the ball to a teammate ('foot pass'). A legal 'hand pass' is committed by a player who makes it apparent to the referee that a clean striking action has occurred (to clearly show that the ball was not thrown).

  • If an attacking player is within his opponents small parallelogram before the ball enters, it is deemed a 'square ball', and a free out to the defending team. However, if the ball enters before him, or enters, is cleared and played back into the small parallelogram before he has time to exit, a foul is not called.
Personal Fouls

This section deals with fouls committed by a player on another player.

  • Tackling: A defending player may try to dispossess an attacking player by one of two methods:-

    Tackling 'shoulder-to-shoulder' i.e. making fair contact with his shoulder to the other player's shoulder to try and unbalance him. The defender may not use his hip or elbow in the tackle, and one foot has to be on the ground during the whole tackling procedure. A player may use the shoulder to push a player away from the ball whilst both of them are chasing a 'fifty-fifty' ball i.e. no team is in proper possession of the ball.

    In Gaelic football he may attempt to knock the ball from the attacker's hands with the open palm. Only one hand can be used, and the defender cannot try to pull it from the attacker, he must knock it cleanly from his possession.

    If either of these rules is breached, the referee awards a free to the attacking player. Consistent personal fouling by a player may warrant a booking from the referee, and if he is booked a second time, he must leave the field of play, and suffer an immediate two week suspension, which may be lengthened by the appropriate disciplinary board.

  • Pulling: No player may pull the jersey of an opposing player during the game, weather it is whilst running for the ball, tackling an attacking player, or during quiet periods of play. Consistent pulling of an opposing player's jersey may warrant a booking, and if the foul is committed at a later time and noted by the referee, this mandates a sending off.

  • Pushing: A free is awarded if one player pushes an opposing player, whilst chasing him, tackling him, or if one player is in front of another for a catch and the payer behind pushes his opponent to get a better chance of catching the ball.

  • Striking: If a player strikes any other player on the pitch, with either the fist of the boot, weather an opponent or on the same team, he is to be immediately put off. A minimum two-week suspension is imposed, and this may be extended by the appropriate disciplinary board.

  • Dangerous play: If the referee deems a player to be a danger to other players, he has the right to caution the player about his conduct. If this conduct is not changed, the referee may book the player. If again this makes no difference, the referee has the right to put the player off. A two-week suspension is imposed upon the player.
Frees & Penalties

If a foul is committed outside the fourteen-yard line, the free is to be taken by a player on the attacking side. In Gaelic football the free may now be taken from the hands. If he is taking the free kick from the hand, he is not allowed bounce the ball, throw it from hand-to-hand, etc., before the free is taken.

For any foul committed inside the 14-yard line, but outside the large parallelogram, are brought out to the 14-yard line, perpendicular to the end line. The free may be taken from the ground or hand, and the same rules apply to the free taker if the free is being taken from the hand.

If a personal foul to an attacking player is committed within his opponents' large parallelogram, a penalty to the attacking team is awarded. Penalties are one-on-one frees taken from the 14 yard line, directly in front of the centre of goal. In Gaelic football only the defending goalkeeper may stand in the goal. All players (except the player taking the penalty and those on the line) must be 14 yards away from the ball and outside the 14-yard line, and may not encroach on these boundaries until the ball has been played. Recently, new markings to the pitch showing these boundaries have been introduced.

If a technical foul is committed by a defending player within his own large rectangle, but outside the small parallelogram, a 14-yard free is awarded to the attacking team.

If a technical foul is committed by a defending player inside his own small parallelogram, a penalty is awarded to the attacking team.

A special free called a '45', in football is awarded to an attacking team if a defender plays the ball last before it crosses the defenders' end line. This free is so called because it is taken from the defenders' 45 metre line. This free must be taken from the ground. It is taken perpendicular to where the ball crossed the line.

Sideline Balls and Kickouts

A player who touches the ball last before it crosses out of play is penalised by possession returning to the other team and a free awarded depending on where the ball leaves the field of play. If the ball crosses the sideline, a sideline is taken. This free may be taken in a similar fashion to any other free awarded, and is taken from where the ball left the field of play.

If an attacking player is the last to touch the ball before it crosses the end line, a kick out/puckout is awarded to the defending team. Kick outs, in Gaelic football, are taken from the ground. Where they are taken depends on where they crossed the end line:

If the ball crosses the end line but does not go between the defenders' goalposts, a wide ball is declared and the free kick is taken from the 6 yard line (i.e. the front of the small parallelogram).

In football, if the ball crosses the end line, and goes between the defenders' goalposts, either above or below the crossbar, a score is given to the attacking team and the kickout is taken from the 21-yard line.

As explained earlier, if a defender plays the ball over his own end line, a '45' is awarded to the attacking team.


In Gaelic football and hurling there are two types of score, a goal or a point.

A point is scored by playing the ball over your opponents' end line, between their goalposts, and over the crossbar.

A goal is scored by playing the ball over your opponents' end line, between the goalposts, and under the crossbar. A goal is worth three points.

Players may score from either the hand or the foot in football, or the hurl and foot in hurling. A goal cannot be scored using the hand pass method, although points can be scored this way. A goal scored by hand will count if the referee deems it not to have been by the hand pass method e.g. if a player is in possession of the ball, drops it, and punches the ball into the goal this will count.

A set of goals in Gaelic football/hurling are similar to those of rugby. The two vertical posts (goalposts) are placed 14 yards apart, with a horizontal bar (crossbar) between them, 8 feet from the ground.

If a defender plays the ball through his own goalposts, whether by foot or by hand, the appropriate score is awarded to the attacking team. A defending player may score an own goal with a hand pass.

Original Rules

The original rules of the GAA for Gaelic Football were first written in the year 1887 and were subsequently published in the "United Ireland" magazine on the 7th February 1887.

  1. There shall not be less than 15 or more than 21 players a side.

  2. There shall be two umpires and a referee. Where the umpires disagree, the referee's decision shall be final.

  3. The ground shall be at least 120 yards long and by 80 yards in breadth and properly marked by boundary lines. Boundary lines to be at least five yards from the fences.

  4. Goal-posts shall stand at each end in the centre of the goal-line. They shall be 15 feet apart, with cross-bar eight feet from the ground.

  5. The captains of each team shall toss for choice of sides before commencing play and the players shall stand in two ranks opposite each other, until the ball is thrown up, each man holding the hand of one of the other side.

  6. Pushing or tripping from behind, holding from behind, or butting with the head shall be deemed foul and players so offending shall be asked to stand aside and may not afterwards take any part in the match, nor can his side substitute another man.

  7. The time of actual play shall be one hour. Sides to be changed at half-time.

  8. The match shall be decided by the greater number of goals. If no goal is kicked, the match shall be deemed a draw. A goal is scored when the ball is kicked through the goal-posts under the cross-bar.

  9. When the ball is kicked over the side-line it shall be thrown back in any direction by a player of the other side. If kicked over the goal-line by a player of the other side, the goal-keeper whose line it crosses shall have a free kick. No player on the other side to approach nearer than 25 yards of him till the ball is kicked.

  10. The umpires and referee shall have, during the match, full power to disqualify any player or order him to stand aside and discontinue play for any act which they may consider unfair as set out in Rule 6.

Interesting Facts

The highest attendance ever recorded at an All-Ireland Senior Football Final was 90,556 at the 1961 Down vs Offaly final. Following the introduction of seating to the Cusack stand in 1966, the largest crowd recorded since has been reduced to 73,588. When the current development to Croke Park is finished the capacity will be 79,500.

The highest number of appearances in the All-Ireland Senior Football final is 10. This has been achieved by Paudie O'Shea, Pat Spillane and Denis 'Ogie' Moran. They were winners on no less than eight occasions with Kerry.

The highest individual score in the modern 70-minute game was recorded by Jimmy Keaveney (Dublin) in the 1977 Final against Armagh where he scored two goals and six points (12 points), and by Mike Sheehy (Kerry) in the 1979 Final against Dublin where he also recorded 2-6.

To learn more about Gaelic football and Hurling visit the official G.A.A. site.

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Ciaran Coughlan