Irish Sports on the Jersey Shore

March 14, 2017
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Mary Beth Glaccum is the driving force behind bringing traditional Irish sports to the
Jersey Shore. Photo by Jay Cook

A Q&A with the Jersey Shore Gaelic Athletic Association

By Jay Cook |

Mary Beth Glaccum is the founder and chairman of the Jersey Shore Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), one of 300 athletic leagues specializing in traditional Irish sports throughout North America. The Jersey Shore GAA is a nonprofit organization with about 125 current members.

Glaccum, of Brielle, has helped bring Gaelic football and hurling to the Shore. Starting in April, the Monmouth County Park System will be hosting Gaelic football for ages 8 and up at the Thompson Park Rugby Field in Lincroft and Dorbrook Park in Colts Neck.

How popular are these Gaelic sports?

We have a growing presence, and anybody that comes out falls in love with it, especially with the football. I do also think hurling can take off, because honestly, this is the origins of lacrosse, ice hockey and American baseball.

Where are these sports played?

Locally, the men are practicing Tuesday and Thursday nights, April through September, in Belmar at Maclearie Park. The kids are moving between Dorbrook and Thompson Parks, but I think we’ll be at Thompson this year on Saturday mornings. We’re competing with teams in New York, Connecticut, North Jersey, Philadelphia. It’s very regional.

My dream for the Jersey Shore GAA is that we have a local league, and then a travel team that’s going out to compete with the North American board or the New York GAA.

The Irish sport of hurling combines baseball and hockey skills for a fast-paced game. Photo courtesy of Tom Smith from the Jersey Shore GAA

Who plays the Gaelic football and hurling?

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Everybody. Everybody can play, but it has gotten more serious. The New York league has gotten quite competitive, and there is some criticism about how it’s done in New York. Here at Jersey Shore, we just welcome anybody, whether you have experience or not. We have some wonderful coaches that are great teachers, and we have a great commitment from our group.

What do you need to play?

First, you need cleats. For Gaelic football, the children have to wear mouthguards, but that’s the only thing they need. We supply all the supplies and have everything donated. For hurling, you need a helmet. There are special hurling helmets that are a certain shape and size, but an ice hockey or lacrosse helmet works as well.

Can you describe what it’s like on the field?

There’s usually 15 guys per side on the field at the same time (Gaelic football and hurling). It can be rough. With the children, there’s no contact allowed. In the advanced leagues, it’s tough. Injuries happen in every sport. It’s not full-on contact where you might be breaking bones, but there can be a one-off instance where you get hit with the hurl and can get hurt.

What is the atmosphere on the sidelines?

National Geographic actually said that going to an all-Ireland hurling match on Croke Park in Dublin is one of the most exciting things you can ever see. The loyalty to your home county is so tremendously strong; everyone is in their jersey for their club. It’s an outrageous experience, plus the game goes so fast, so you can’t help but to be drawn in.

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Who supports the Jersey Shore GAA?

I personally have committed a lot of funding, and our board has committed their time – that’s who makes it happen. The Dublin House has given us some nice donations and we often have fundraisers, and they’re helpful there. The company we started,, has helped as well. The local AOH chapters have been good too.

What is Jersey Shore GAA’s future?

I want to have a well-established league and presence here at the Jersey Shore. We want to have multiple age group teams with the kids and adults, and want to have female teams. With the Monmouth County Parks System, we’re hoping it takes off if there’s a lot of interest. They’re on board. We’re starting with the children, but hoping to incorporate the adults as well.

What makes a great GAA athlete?

Strong legs, some coordination. You really have to be physically fit to play these games. Mentally, it’s no different than any other sport, but you have to be focused and have that drive to get the ball down the field. You can’t be afraid and have to give it your all.

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