• Morgan Fagg

Get off your grass and pass the damn ball

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

PHOTOS from the Ladies' Final https://www.madrid-harps-final.nohemingway.com

For over six years I have always brought a camera to check out the annual Madrid Harps’ GAA tournament which usually involves writing a blog post and taking a few hundred photographs.

One time Andrés Lord Bada even tried to translate one of my articles into Spanish but my writing style doesn’t translate easily and I remember one particular expression, “a Harp Attack” almost caused him to have heart failure as there is no easy translation for that.

Let’s start a little further back then my days playing full back in Spain and look where it all began. The last time I held a football trophy was subbing for Coosan National School when I was 12. We won, it was incredible and the whole school seemed to travel back to Coosan in convoy beeping horns and waving flags.

I never kicked nor passed a ball, and felt reluctant to even hold the trophy when the team captain Paraic Rattigan handed it to me and reminded me that I was part of the winning team.

I saw lots of football in my teenage years and there were plenty of games played out the back of my house but sadly I didn’t partake much in any of that even with Saint Francis FC’s training on Saturdays in Fagg’s field. Not quite a stadium but I am sure most kids would love to have had a full-length football field, with nets, goals, and coaches at the weekend. Sometimes we don’t always appreciate what is literally on our own doorstep.

The first match I ever played was in the North of Spain and I am excluding the 1994 County Final in Multyfarnham of course as I only subbed and didn’t play that day which might explain why we won. The only thing I ended up doing that day was carrying bags for Eoin Kiveney who sprained his arm in the final.

I always find it hard to imagine playing in foreign fields and traveling so far for tournaments when I had taken a not-in-my-backyard attitude in the past. By 2012 when I moved to Madrid, I realised that it was time to get off my grass.

It all kicked off on my birthday in 2013 after taking a metro to the airport and a Ryanair flight to the region where the team had hired rental cars. We were playing in Galicia where they celebrate their Celtic roots and enjoy six different G.A.A. teams competing in the region.

GAAlicia was the first of many tournaments but this bench warmer got a colourful new role when I was asked to become the team mascot, and Morgybear was born. The bear is, of course, the symbol for Madrid and there is a 20-tonne statue of El Oso y El Madroño in the centre of Madrid. The bear and the madroño tree might sound very Spanish but my parents have actually planted a madroño tree in the backyard, in my home from home, Athlone.

It got very hot and sweaty in the bear costume especially playing football in Spain but I think the ladies’ team would have really appreciated some bear hugs on Saturday as they were playing in absolute baltic conditions. The girls had three teams competing on Saturday as did the men at a different pitch 20 minutes away but I didn’t make it as far as their games.

Isabel Laguna Rodríguez was on the ball and asked me if I could send her on some pics for TV/ Twitter.

The Harps won the Ladies Final and Valencia won the Men's Final and that night I got talking to Diarmuid Colmáin O Donnabhain from Valencia who was organising interviews with Jim Buggy. Diarmuid had contacted me months earlier to see if they could interview me for A Gael in Spain.

Later that night in a club called Moondance, one of the Harps stopped to tell me how important meeting me in 2016 was. According to his story, I had told him how great the club was and encouraged him to stay and check them out. He had been thinking of just leaving before the training even started and described the importance of me passing him the ball. While enjoying some rum in Moondance, he described how important passing the ball was, as joining the club helped to really settle him in Spain.

It doesn’t always work out to be so enthusiastic about the club and I remember five years ago in an Irish bar, a barmaid told my date to watch out as she thought that I was a player because I kept telling the Northern Ireland barmaid about the local GAA club.

If she actually joined the club she would have seen that I’m no player but just passionate about the Harps.

On Sunday morning I met with Jim Buggy for the podcast interview and that night Isa shared the news that she got one of my pictures shared on a sports round-up on RTVE. Well done Isa.

Behind every good goal ISA great woman and below Laura and Itzy take taking goals in their stride

Maybe the bear has hibernated long enough and should start back playing but my role will always be more about passing on pictures and trying to spread the word. Hon the harps, Venga Isabel but as I learnt late Saturday night, well 5 AM Sunday morning, the simplest things can mean a lot to people, in your club, so pass a ball to the guy who is hesitant about joining, take pictures at the AGM and tournaments on your smartphone, if you don’t have a camera with a sports lens handy.

I was no expert in my field and certainly never appreciated football until I came to Spain but we have a great sport which could be promoted more and further afield. Well done Isa, the Madrid Harps Ladies’ team and Valencia and thanks everyone for sharing photos and stories on Saturday night.

The grass might not be greener on the other side but at least in Spain, people really appreciate Gaelic football even if they’ve never played it before.

Get behind a good team and show your support even if you have to tweet it from the hilltops.

Thanks for the support over the years guys, GRASSYASS

Morgybear in Galicia and Seville.

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