Gaelic football is played by teams of 15 on a rectangular grass pitch with H-shaped goals at each end. The primary object is to score by kicking or striking the ball with the hand and getting it through the goals. The team with the highest score at the end of the match wins.
Players advance the ball up the field with a combination of carrying, soloing (dropping and then toe-kicking the ball upward into the hands), kicking, and hand-passing to their team-mates.
Football is one of four Gaelic games run by the Gaelic Athletic Association, the largest sporting organisation in Ireland. It has strict rules on player amateurism and the pinnacle of the sport is the inter-county All-Ireland Football Final. The game is believed to have descended from ancient Irish football known as caid which dates back to medieval times, although the modern rules were not set down until 1886.
Teams consist of fifteen players (a goalkeeper, two corner backs, a full back, three half backs, two mid fielders, three half forwards, two corner forwards and a full forward) plus up to fifteen substitutes, of which five may be used. Each player is numbered 1–15, starting with the goalkeeper, who must wear a different coloured jersey to the other team.
The following are considered technical fouls ("fouling the ball"):
Shoulder-charging and slapping the ball out of an opponent's hand is permitted, but the following are all fouls:
The referee is responsible for starting and stopping play, recording the score, awarding frees and booking and sending off players.
Linesmen are responsible for indicating the direction of line balls to the referee.
The fourth official is responsible for overseeing substitutions, and also indicating the amount of stoppage time (signaled to him by the referee) and the players substituted using an electronic board.
The umpires are responsible for judging the scoring. They indicate to the referee whether a shot was: wide (spread both arms), a 45 m kick (raise one arm), a point (wave white flag), square ball (cross arms) or a goal (wave green flag).
Contrary to popular belief within the association, all officials are not obliged to indicate "any misdemeanours" to the referee, but are in fact only permitted to inform the referee of violent conduct they have witnessed which has occurred without the referees knowledge. A linesman/umpire is not permitted to inform the referee of technical fouls such as a "double bounce" or an illegal pick up of the ball. Such decisions can only be made at the discretion of the referee.
The earliest record of a recognized precursor to modern Gaelic football date from a game in County Meath in 1670, in which catching and kicking the ball was permitted.
However even "foot-ball" was banned by the severe Sunday Observance Act of 1695, which imposed a fine of one shilling (a substantial amount at the time) for those caught playing sports. It proved difficult, if not impossible, for the authorities to enforce the Act and the earliest recorded inter-county match in Ireland was one between Louth and Meath, at Slane, in 1712.
A six-a-side version was played in Dublin in the early 18th century, and 100 years later there were accounts of games played between County sides (Prior, 1997).
By the early 19th century, various football games, referred to collectively as caid, were popular in Kerry, especially the Dingle Peninsula. Father W. Ferris described two forms of caid: the "field game" in which the object was to put the ball through arch-like goals, formed from the boughs of two trees, and; the epic "cross-country game" which lasted the whole of a Sunday (after mass) and was won by taking the ball across a parish boundary. "Wrestling", "holding" opposing players, and carrying the ball were all allowed.
By the 17th century, the situation had changed considerably. The games had grown in popularity and were widely played. This was due to the patronage of the gentry. Now instead of opposing the games it was the gentry and the ruling class who were serving as patrons of the games. Games were organized between landlords with each team comprising 20 or more tenants. Wagers were commonplace with purses of up to 100 guineas an old unit of currency (Prior, 1997).
During the 1860s and 1870s, Rugby and Association football started to become popular in Ireland. Trinity College, Dublin was an early stronghold of Rugby, and the rules of the English Football Association were codified in 1863 and distributed widely. By this time, according to Gaelic football historian Jack Mahon, even in the Irish countryside, caid had begun to give way to a "rough-and-tumble game" which even allowed tripping.
Limerick was the stronghold of the native game around this time, and the Commercials Club, founded by employees of Cannock’s Drappery Store, was one of the first to impose a set of rules which was adapted by other clubs in the city. Of all the Irish pastimes the GAA set out to preserve and promote, it is fair to say that Gaelic football was in the worst shape at the time of the association’s foundation (GAA Museum, 2001).
Irish forms of football were not formally arranged into an organised playing code by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) until 1887. The GAA sought to promote traditional Irish sports, such as hurling and to reject "foreign" (particularly English) imports. The first Gaelic football rules, showing the influence of hurling and a desire to differentiate from association football — for example in their lack of an offside rule — were drawn up by Maurice Davin and published in the United Ireland magazine on February 7, 1887. The rules of the aforementioned Commercials Club became the basis for these official (Gaelic Football) rules who, unsurprisingly, won the inaugural All-Ireland Senior Football Final (representing County Limerick)
Ladies' Gaelic football has become increasingly popular with women since the 1970s.
The relationship between Gaelic football and Australian rules football and the question of whether they have shared origins is a matter of historical controversy. Games are held between an Irish representative team and an Australian team, under compromise rules known as International rules football.
| Dan O'Keefe|
|Right Corner Back||Full Back||Left Corner Back|
| Enda Colleran|
| Joe Keohane|
| Seán Flanagan|
|Right Half Back||Centre Back||Left Half Back|
| Sean Murphy|
| J. J. O'Reilly|
| Martin O'Connell|
| Mick O'Connell|
| Tommy Murphy|
|Right Half Forward||Centre Forward||Left Half Forward|
| Pat Spillane|
| Seán Purcell|
| Seán O'Neill|
|Right Corner Forward||Full Forward||Left Corner Forward|
| Kevin Heffernan|
| Tommy Langan|
| Mikey Sheehy|
The basic unit of each game is organised at the club level, which is usually arranged on a parish basis, with various local clubs playing to win the County Championship at various levels:
|Senior||the better adult clubs|
|Intermediate||clubs between Senior and Junior levels|
|Junior||weaker adult clubs, from small communities|
|Under-age||all ages from under-17 down to under-8|
On a national level, the team is organised on the old Irish county system, producing 34 teams representing the original 32 counties that cover the island of Ireland, plus teams representing the Irish diaspora in London and New York. Splitting Dublin into North and South due to its enormous population has been considered, but is unlikely to happen any time soon. There are also clubs in other parts of the USA, Britain, Asia, Australasia, continental Europe and Canada.
Though Ireland was partitioned between two states in 1920, Gaelic sports (like most cultural organisations and all religions) continue to be organised on an all-island basis.
A team of 15 players plus substitutes is formed from the best players playing at club level.
Nearly all counties play against each other in a knock-out tournament known as the All Ireland Championship.
In the past, the best team from each would play one of the others, at a stage known as the All-Ireland semi-finals, with the winning team from each game playing each other in the All-Ireland Final.
A recent re-organisation now provides a 'back door' method of qualifying, with knocked out teams getting another chance to win back into the competition. This means that one team may defeat another team in an early stage of the championship, yet be defeated and knocked-out of the tournament by the same team at a later stage.
County teams also compete in the National Football League, held every spring. The League is nowhere near as prestigious as the All-Ireland, but in recent years attendances have grown and interest, from the public and from players, has grown. This is due in part to the organisation of the league into the above format, the provision of the Division 2 final stages and the relatively new change of starting the league in February rather than November. Live matches are shown on the Irish-language TV station TG4, with highlights shown on RTE2.
The final game of the inter-county series is the All Ireland Final which takes place on the fourth Sunday of September at Croke Park. Before 1999, the final was held on the third Sunday of the month, but this custom was changed due to an overloaded schedule of matches. The 2008 final, won by Tyrone, was played on the third Sunday of September, September 21st.
Over the four Sundays of September, All Ireland Finals in men's football, women's football, hurling and camogie take place in Croke Park, the national stadium of the GAA, with the men's decider regularly attracting crowds of over 80,000. Guests who attend include Uachtarán na hÉireann, An Taoiseach and leading dignitaries.
Two levels of the game are played at each All Ireland, the Senior team and the Minor team (consisting of younger players, under the age of 18, who have played their own Minor All-Ireland competition.)