GAA in Italy has exploded on the European scene in the last 18 months. Gaelic Games, in all codes, are thriving in Italy and, guess what, there are hardly any Irish involved!
We can trace the development of Gaelic Games in Italy back to one man and one event. The man is Raffaello Franco and the event is his honeymoon in Ireland in 2011. Raffaello, and his wife Elisabetta, honeymooned in Ireland and went to Croke Park for the Museum and Skyline tour and an Allianz League game. That day a love for all things Gaelic games and the amateur and volunteer ethos was born. Raffaello packed a Gaelic football into his suitcase and along with an interest in the mystique and aura that surrounds the GAA and a dream to one day set up his own club.
Raffaello, who is now Chairperson of the Ascaro Rovigo GAA Club, in his own words says: “I have been humbled by what has happened, I never expected this. It has all been fantastic!”
The Rovigo club has inspired their neighbours and bitter local rivals in Padova to set up a club. Rome has come on board and there are now development projects in Florence, Milan, Verona and Treviso. Ladies Football is also active with clubs in Rome and Padova. The clubs of Rovigo, Padova and Rome have all hosted their own tournaments in the Swiss/Italian Region of European GAA in 2013.
In just one year, there have been coaching courses, GAA Handball One Wall tournaments, Poc Fada’s, Kids Coaching Programmes and a referees course, allied with significant club and GAA exposure and promotion in the Italian media. The greatest success so far has probably been the referees course which produced five Italian referees, some of whom will travel to Ireland to officiate later this month.
On the 19th/20th of October 2013, two of the Italian teams, Rovigo and Padova, will join alomost 30 other teams from across Europe at a “Gathering” in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, where they participate in the O’Neills European Football Championship finals. They will take in the two day event, visit local GAA clubs around Ireland, making friends, sharing experiences and will end their trip back in Croke Park for the International Rules 2nd Test. They will also visit the Club Wall at the entrance to the GAA Museum in Croke Park which now proudly bears the Ascaro Rovigo GAA Crest along with crests from clubs in 20 other European nations.
It is a symbol of monumental pride and sense of achievement for the Italians, that their efforts have borne fruit so quickly. This band of ever more knowledgeable GAA enthusiasts whose relentless passion, commitment and immersion into the GAA grows with every passing day, have embraced all aspects of the games and are driving GAA growth in Italy.