How to Play Gaelic Football

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What You Need to Know

  1. Gaelic football is one of the main Gaelic Games, controlled by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA)
  2. The sport is completely amateur, though at the highest level, it attracts crowds of thousands, particularly the All-Ireland Senior Championship Final
  3. The sport is played on a pitch similar to that used in football and rugby on which 2 teams of 15 players each battle it out
  4. Points are scored by either hitting the ball over the crossbar (1 point) or getting it past the goalkeeper into the goal (3 points)
  5. Players are allowed to move the ball by bouncing it, running with it for 4 metres or passing it to a teammate
  6. Running more than 4 metres or bouncing the ball twice without tapping it with the toe between bounces are fouls and punished by surrendering possession to the opposition
  7. The GAA website is the best place to start if you want to learn more about the sport or if you want to give it a go yourself


Gaelic football is one of the 4 sports which make up the Gaelic Games, controlled by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). The game is a team sport in which players attempt to score goals using a combination of kicking, dribbling and hand-passing the ball.

Interestingly, despite having a massive following in Ireland, as well as a healthy following elsewhere in the world, Gaelic football remains an amateur sport, with no player or manager allowed to receive payment for their efforts. At the top level, the game is contested by counties across Ireland, with the season culminating in the All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, though the sport is also strong at the grassroots level.

The Pitch and Ball

A Gaelic football pitch looks almost identical to a rugby pitch, though it should be slightly bigger. The game's rules state that a pitch must be between 130 and 145 metres in length and 80 and 90 metres in width. Clearly-marked white lines should be marked at distances of 13, 20 and 45 metres from each end line.

At each end, there needs to be H-shaped goalposts. The distance between the two posts needs to be between 6 and 7 metres, with the cross bar 2.5 metres and the posts going up to 6.5 metres in height. Fixed in between each goal, attached to the crossbar and the lower portion of the posts needs to be a net.

The ball, meanwhile, is round and just a little smaller than the ball used for soccer. The rules stipulate that a Gaelic football ball should weight between 370 and 425 grams and have a diameter no more than 74 centimetres.

Teams and Positions

Gaelic football matches are contested by two teams of 15 players each, with each player wearing a shirt numbered from 1 to 15. In addition to a starting line-up, each side can name up to 15 substitutes, though only 5 can be made during a match.

Positions will be familiar to anyone who follows association football. They are as follows:

  • Goalkeeper: Each team has one goalkeeper, who has to wear a different coloured shirt to the rest of his teammates. Quite simply, their job is to stop the opponents scoring by trying to prevent the ball from going into their goal. Goalkeepers are the only players permitted to touch the ball when it is on the ground in their own penalty area. While a goalkeeper can go anywhere he wants, once he leaves the penalty area, he is subject to the same rules as all the other outfield players. Generally speaking, goalkeepers will be tall, brave, agile and as good as kicking and passing the ball as they are at stopping shots.
  • Backs: Each team will line up with 2 corner backs, a single full back, 2 wing backs and a single centre back. All of these players are tasked with defending against opposing attackers, though the corner backs are usually more defensive and required to be extra speedy, while half backs will be expected to push forward when they can. Arguably the most important role is that of the full back, who wears the number 3 shirt. He will be required to organise the defence and contribute to both defence and attack.
  • Midfield: As might be expected, the midfielder, who wears the number 8 or 9, is tasked with acting as the main link between defence and attack. Above all, the midfielder is expected to catch kicks from the opposing team's goalkeeper, as well as from their own keeper, so excellent catching skills are essential. As a rule, both teams will have 2 midfielders each, though they rarely remain fixed in the same positions.
  • Forwards: Each team will have both a half forward line and a full forward line. Half forwards, who include left, right and centre forwards, operate around the opposition's 45-metre line and are required to feed the ball to the full forward line. Full forwards, meanwhile, operate around the opposition's 21-metre line and are tasked with scoring their team's points.

The Objective and Scoring Points

At the simplest level, the objective of Gaelic football is to score more points than the opposing team. A single point is awarded for getting the ball over the opposing team's crossbar and between the posts. This can be done either by kicking the ball or by fisting it with a closed hand over the bar. If an attempt is successful, the umpire will raise a white flag and a single point will be added to the team's total.

Alternatively, 3 points are awarded for getting the ball between the posts and under the crossbar into the net. This is known as a goal. Goals can only be scored through kicking, though a player may fist the ball into the net if it was played to him from a teammate or if it comes to him off the ground, the post or the bar. As soon as the attacker takes control of the ball, he must kick it if he wants to score a goal.

At the end of the match, each team's points are tallied up. Usually the scores will be broken down into the number of single points and the number of goals scored. So, a team's score might read (Team A 4,4) which means that they scored 4 single points and 4 goals worth 3 points each, giving them a total of 16.

To move the ball forward, a player may either carry it in his hands for 4 steps, or he can 'toe tap' the ball into his hands or bounce it off the ground for as long as he likes. Note, however, that the ball needs to be toe-tapped every 4 steps. Players may use their hands or their feet to pass the ball to a teammate.


Any player on the pitch may try and take the ball from an opponent by hitting it with a flat hand. Shoulder to shoulder contact and slapping the ball out of an opponent's hands are permitted and commonplace. Moreover, players are allowed to physically attack opponents in an attempt to win the ball so long as the attacker has at least one foot on the ground at all times.

Fouls and Penalties

There are 3 distinct types of foul in Gaelic football, all with their own range of penalties. Briefly, the 3 types of foul are:

  • Technical Fouls: Generally speaking, this type occurs when a player fails to follow the rules concerning how to handle the ball. So, everything from bouncing the ball twice in a row without foot-tapping it in-between, right through to taking more than 4 steps without releasing the ball and attempting to hand pass the ball into the goal are all considered Technical Fouls. In most cases, such fouls are punished by giving possession to the opposing team.
  • Aggressive Fouls: This type of foul is called for physical or verbal transgressions on the pitch, either against an opposing player or even against the referee. An offending player can either be cautioned (yellow card) or sent off (red card). Alternatively, a player may now be sent off but his team allowed to send on a substitution.
  • Dissent Fouls: Players are not permitted to challenge the authority of the game officials. To do so will result in a Dissent Foul being called. The offending player may be cautioned or even sent off and any free kick awarded will be moved 13 metres closer to the opponent's goal.

Getting Started

Getting into Gaelic football isn't as difficult as you may think. To get started, all you need is a ball and a few other people. Just fisting and bouncing a ball around your local park can help you develop the skills you need to play the game, plus, though they aren't exactly the same size, rugby posts or even football goals will serve adequately for informal games.

If you're more serious, then you should try and find a local team. Gaelic football is played right across Ireland, as well as in a number of countries right around the world. While in many cities it's played mainly by expatriate members of the Irish community, there's no need to be Irish to join in the fun.

A good place to get started is to read more about the game is the website of the GAA which governs the sport.  The London GAA also organises youth and adult teams, both in football and other Gaelic games, across London and the surrounding regions.

Further Reading

  • The GAA is the world's governing body for Gaelic sports. Its website ( is a great place to learn all about the history of the sport, as well as the rules and regulations.
  • To keep up to speed with all the latest news from the world of Gaelic football, check out the sports pages of the RTE website (
  • Gaelic football is fast, exciting and perfect for sports betting. Learn how to Bet on Gaelic Football here:

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