Nantes Gaelic Football Club & in Brittany

A small presentation of both our club and the dynamism of Gaelic Football in Brittany.

Gaelic Football in Brittany

Gaelic Football arrived in France as it arrived everywhere else : through the Irish diaspora. And it wasn’t before the nineties that organized clubs were created in Paris (1994), Lyon, Rennes (1998) and Brest (1999). Paris had enough Irish immigrants to survive the players’ turnover though Lyon, Rennes and Brest had to rely on locals to complete a team. And while the Lyon club disappeared (a brand new one started in 2008 though), Gaelic Football remained alive in Rennes and Brest. These two Brittany clubs were joined by Sens-de-Bretagne / Liffré (2004), Merdrignac (2004), Bains-sur-Oust, Nantes (2006), Vannes (2008, and hopefully Lannion (2008). Surprisingly, all these new clubs were initiated by French players that discovered the sport in Ireland or played in the early clubs of Rennes and Brest. All these teams playing in a relatively small area allowed the birth of the Brittany Championship, that came with shorter travels than the Euroleague ones. And until 2008, Paris remained the one and only French club outside Brittany.

What’s interesting is trying to explain Gaelic Football’s success in Brittany. In Ireland, the GAA used Gaelic sports to defend the ancestral Irish culture against British influence. More than a century later, GAA’s success speaks for itself. Brittany, as Ireland, has its own ancestral culture, its own language, and used to be an independent Duchy until the 16th century. France’s governing system, centred on Paris, tried to erase the regional cultures in the early 20th century, For example, it was forbidden to teach Breton (the Brittany language) in schools. Such vexations no longer take place fortunately. And while there’s no equivalent to GAA in Brittany, we celebrated in May 2008 the 30 years of Diwan schools that teach Breton up to the high school level. This small parallel can explain why Gaelic Football developed quickly in Brittany, the Celtic culture being the link between Ireland and our region. A link that can be found on our jerseys, as the Naoned written in our backs is the Breton name of Nantes… Finally, the brand-new Gaelic Football Brittany League will now be relied to take care of the game development here.

Naoned Football Gaélique

As previously stated, Nantes’ club was created in 2006, by Erwan Gouin. Erwan, a former goalkeeper for the youth teams of Stade Lavallois (a professionnal French football association club), discovered Gaelic Football during his studies in Rennes. When he arrived in Nantes in September 2006, he decided to create a new club here to keep playing Gaelic Football. Players were recruited here and there, the club was officially created in November, a training pitch was found and there was a Nantes team ready to start the Brittany Championship 2006-2007. Without any Irish player involved yet !

The first tournament in Sens-de-Bretagne proved to be very successful as the young Nantes team surprised everyone to win the first leg of the Brittany Championship. This Championship consists in four tournaments, held successively by the four teams involved (Rennes, Brest, Nantes and Sens-de-Bretagne / Liffré). In each leg, the full round robin is played (6 games of 2×15 min, eleven a side, on football association / rugby pitches) and teams earn points based on their final ranking for the day (25 pts for the 1st place team, 20 pts for the 2nd, 16 pts for the 3rd and 14 pts for the 4th). At the end of the fourth tournament, the team with the most points is crowned Brittany Champion. Rennes won the title in 2006-2007 while Nantes finished tied at 3rd with Brest. Though this first season proved to be a successful one, as the club organized its first tournament in Nantes (the third leg of the Brittany Championship) and won an extra tournament called Monterfil Challenge in June, during a Breton and Celtic festival that holds a Gaelic Football tournament to promote the Breton-Irish friendship.

After a first season when Erwan took everything on his shoulders to start the club (he was at the same time Chairman, Trainer, Coach, Goalkeeper, Public Relations Officer and main coordinator to organize the Nantes tournament), a new Board was put in place in September 2007 to prepare his departure to Paris in early 2008. The back-end of the team took over the Board as François Milanesi, half-back, was appointed Chairman, Julien Combes, half-back, was appointed Treasurer and Pierre Le Cointe, full back, was appointed Secretary/PRO. Though offense and a collective style of play remained our motto on the pitch, enforced by Arnaud Abdulsater, half forward, Breton teacher…and new Coach ! The season started with a Foundation Level session in Coaching held by Colm Clear and James Meagher from the GAA (thanks to Eileen Jennings, Chairperson of the European County Board who made this coaching session possible), to allow several players to take care of the training sessions. The club also quickly made its first « European » appearance in October in Paris, facing teams from Maastricht, Luxembourg, Madrid and Barcelona ! In December, the club concluded a sponsoring partnership with the Irish pub John McByrne, which brought brand new jerseys to the club and a RTE feed to watch the All-Ireland Championship in Nantes. At the end of the season, Nantes finished the Britanny Championship at the 3rd rank once again, Liffré being crowned champion for 2007-2008. The new Brittany Champions also won the Monterfil Challenge and the first European Beach Gaelic tournament held in June in Pornichet, on the Atlantic Coast. Once again, Nantes proved to be a very dynamic organization, as this project was initiated by Guillaume Kerrien, who started to play with Paris Gaels before joining Nantes, and carried out by the whole Nantes team. The success of this first Beach Gaelic tournament overstepped all of our dreams, as we hosted a women team from County Kilkenny and two journalists from RTE’s show The Road to Croker with Des Cahill !

Game development and 2008-2009 season

During our first two seasons, one of our main goals has always been to develop and promote our sport. To achieve this, we presented Gaelic Football during sport manifestations or Irish/Breton culture festivals. As we have several teachers who play the game, we were also able to hold Gaelic Football courses in schools. In the near future, we will focus on creating a student and a women team in Nantes, as we lack both teams at the moment. And to improve our knowledge of the game, as many players as possible will participate in Level 1 Coaching sessions and Foundation Level Referee courses that are set to be held in Brittany in 2008-2009.

On the pitch, we’ll still organize the Nantes leg of the Brittany Championship, and the second Beach Gaelic tournament in Pornichet. This tournmanet will once again be open to everyone, so don’t hesitate to contact us and follow Kilkenny’s steps on the Atlantic sand. Finally, another goal for the upcoming 2008-2009 season is to organize a team travel to Ireland to discover the country and face a local team on its pitch. Once again, if you’re playing in an Irish team and are interested to face us for a friendly game, don’t hesitate to contact us.

And to start this new season, the club once again renewed its Board, to get more and more players involved in its life. And unsurprisingly, the team relied this time on its forwards to take the reins. Jean-Marie Triniol, midfielder, was appointed Chairman, Sébastien Moyon, full forward, was appointed Treasurer and Mathieu Frachon, half forward, was appointed Secretary. Guillaume Kerrien, Paris Gaels player from 2004-2008 and now living in Nantes, was finally appointed as our new Coach. The corner forward arrives in Nantes
with a flattering reputation, being one of the rare French players to have secured a spot in the starting eleven in Paris GAA, three times European champions, these last years. Some already nicknamed him The French Gooch for his smooth kick. The club also registered the arrival of its first ever Irish player : John Keane, from County Cork and University of Limerick, has come over to study in Nantes’ business school for half a year. All these news makes us extremely ambitious for the upcoming season on the pitch.

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