GAA's global appeal runs from Irish towns to townships
A GAA team from two South African townships will challenge two of Dublin's top clubs next month during their first trip to Ireland.
Many of the 20 team members have never been further than their nearest city, never mind travelled abroad.
Footballing legend and UCD director of sport Brian Mullins has agreed to take the South African team under his wing when they arrive here for a six-day tour. The players come from the Alexandra and Tembisa townships in Pretoria, where about 80 players are bussed out of the townships once a week for football training at grounds just north of Johannesburg.
They are part of South Africa Gaels, set up by Englishman Paul Carpenter about four years ago, who took up GAA football while living in Singapore and has since become a passionate supporter of the game.
The team will be accompanied by Ger Herrity, a former Ballyboden St Enda's player who now lives in South Africa.
They are due to arrive in Dublin on March 21 and will be taken on a tour of Croke Park and presented with South African GAA jerseys. Over the following days they will tog out for separate challenge matches against St Vincent's and Ballyboden St Enda's.
Mr Carpenter told the Sunday Independent that the trip is about "more than football".
He hopes several members of the team will become GAA development officers to foster Gaelic games in local schools around Pretoria.
Mr Carpenter said: "We will go to Belfast on the Monday where we will hear a talk on using GAA to develop communities. Part of my reason for doing all this is that I want these guys, who come from some very difficult backgrounds, to see other parts of the world with issues and how they cope.
"Now that Mandela has gone they have to think for themselves, how they want their country to develop."
Once back in South Africa, members of the team will go into local primary and high schools in Alexandra and Tembisa to encourage about 1,750 young people to get involved in GAA teams to play against each other.
"If the model works we will also role it out in places like Durban and Capetown," said Mr Carpenter.
A film crew will follow the Irish trip to make a short documentary to be screened on South African Super Leagues television later in the year.
Meanwhile, Paul is faced with the task of raising the €25,000 sponsorship for the Irish trip. He is hoping to raise €5,000 on a race night and has already attracted a number of sponsors.
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