“We were late enough to warrant at least two punishment laps of the field at home. Thankfully this age old corner stone of GAA timekeeping hasn’t yet made it to France”

UCD Erasmus Student Declan O’Rourke gives an account of playing with The Tolosa Despòrt Gaelic

Going on Erasmus to Toulouse, pills I knew very little about the city. Two of the few things I did know about it were that it is home to Trevor Brennan’s pub and also to a growing GAA club. Though I travelled with no great intentions of sussing out either, it wasn’t long before I found Brennan’s pub, and it wasn’t too long either before the GAA club found me.

The Tolosa Gaels recruitment strategy is a simple one: If one of the big screens in Brennan’s pub (De Danu) is showing GAA, scan the area for anyone who is a) wearing a county jersey, b) sunburnt, or c) eating a full Irish. Should anyone into any of the above categories be located, pounce.

Being from Dublin, my first encounter with De Danu was, naturally enough, the football semi-final v Mayo. By the time Michael Lyster was introducing the match commentators, there were roughly ten Irish students gathered around the big screen, each falling into at least one if not all of the recruitment categories. Sure enough, Tolosa’s chief recruiter, a French man named Clement, had us spotted and cornered in no time.

Training would take place on Wednesdays for as long as we had the light, and every Saturday morning. There would also be subsidised trips to Maastricht, Paris, Lyon, and if we qualified, the European Championships in Brussels. Not half bad, we all agreed, so off we went to training the following Wednesday.

The pitch we were training on ended up being a lot further away than we had imagined so by the time I got there with my UCD co-recruit we were late enough to warrant at least two punishment laps of the field at home. Thankfully this age old corner stone of GAA timekeeping hasn’t yet made it to France so we were spared any extra running. The NUIG crowd followed, along with some French stragglers, and before we knew it we numbered seventeen, the best attended session in Clement’s memory.

On the Metro out to training I decided it would best if I modelled my style of play on something between the Armagh team of 2002 and the Donegal team of 2011, as I’ve never been known for any great accuracy in either my kicking or soloing of an O’Neills size 5, and so I’ve never enjoyed playing football as much as hurling. I was delighted to find that most of our drills revolved around taking a good shoulder and releasing a hand pass – about the limit of my skillset.

It stayed comfortably over twenty degrees for the duration of the session and by the time we wrapped up proceedings with a hugely enjoyable game of backs and forwards we had been out on the field for over an hour and a half. Another Irish GAA tradition not yet to have reached Toulouse is the communal tray of water bottles, so while we all felt the great satisfaction of having put in a solid evening’s work, the journey home was dominated by complaints of blisters and thirst.

Between compulsory tutorials on a Wednesday evening and severe difficulties making it out of bed before 9am on a Saturday I haven’t made it to any sessions since. I’m told that things are motoring along nicely, with numbers holding steadily around the ten or eleven mark, and that one of our group from that first day in De Danu has been promoted to assistant coach.

Three of the NUIG contingent haven’t missed training yet, and while the standard isn’t the best, and the pitch is harder than anything you’ll find in Saipan, they’re adamant that it’s as much fun as they’ve ever had playing football at home.  From the one session I’ve been to I can’t disagree.

Though Clement doesn’t mind that I can’t make Wednesdays, I’m running out of excuses for my Saturday morning absences so I’m determined to be there this week. Wish me luck.