Professional Access

It takes years, sometimes decades of training to reach the levels advanced enough to compete on the main stage at Zayed Sports Stadium in Sports City, Abu Dhabi… it took me 3 weeks.

Ok. Let’s start over. Because at this point you’re probably thinking, Dylan, weren’t you an amazing soccer player in the states? And wasn’t it only natural that you get the recognition you most certainly deserve upon entering that talent-desert UAE? And you’re half right. It is true that I am an amazing – and humble – footballer, as they call it here and everywhere else in the world. The misconception though is that because the UAE is not Europe or South America that the level of play is not as high. To be honest though, I don’t know, they might all be rubbish here. No clue. But this is not an exposé on Arabian Soccer and it’s credibility. Another time maybe.

This is a story of a man who took a chance and ended up having the opportunity to train, practice, and play at Abu Dhabi’s premier soccer stadium. The man? Dylan McShain. The place? United Arab Emirates. The sport? Gaelic Football. Wait, what?

You read right. GAELIC football.

I know you’re confused but stick with me. One of the first steps I took in coming to Abu Dhabi was to try and get connected with different groups and organizations I knew would be a bit o’ fun. So obviously, I looked into the Irish Society of Abu Dhabi. Look into it if you ever stop over. Good stuff aside, one night a few weeks ago I got an email notifying me of a local football club that was beginning its training sessions. Only caveat was that it was Gaelic Football.

Again, I know what you’re thinking. ‘You’re Irish Dylan. You and you’re 8 brothers and sisters must have had regular matches in the backyard of your stone cottage estate in Northern Philadelphia.’ And again, you’re half right. There were a lot of us, but no, Gaelic Football was left to the Emerald Isle and the far corners and shadows of Irish Philadelphia. Other than a few games here and there as a youth I knew nothing. But I went anyway.

Zayed Stadium 2 Night Outside Copy 1

I took a 30-minute taxi to get where I needed to go with barely a direction to give Asaan, my driver. When I told him Zayed Sports City, where a lot of athletics and such take place, he took me to the stadium. I thought, this can’t be right. This is the main stadium. But sure enough, I was in the right place. I knew this because I began to see gaggles of Irishmen walking through the grand arches to the main pitch.
Instantly, thoughts of brogues and limericks and every other Irish stereotype flew through my mind. How could I fit in and make this less awkward?

Answer was… I couldn’t. At least not yet.

One of the primary reasons I stood out a wee bit was that of the 50 odd gents that showed up for that first practice, I was the only American. What made matters even more awkward was when the newbies had to go around and say their name and where they were from. Want to know who plays Gaelic Football? People FROM Ireland. There was one fella from Toronto but every other person in the stadium that night was born and raised on that beautiful green island.

zayed stadium at nightAt the end of the day it was well worth it. Nothing spells male bonding like embarrassing yourself in an athletic setting. On top of that I learned a lot through that initial ordeal.

First, Gaelic football is a very fun game.

Second, playing Gaelic football in 95-degree temperatures turns your sky blue shirt into an onyx navy.

And finally, when you push yourself out of your comfort zone, even if you’re already outside your comfort – ahem, Abu Dhabi – then you are opening yourself up to an amazing allotment of wondrous opportunities.

Heck, you might even get to play in a professional stadium… with real Irishmen.