WHILE the playing fields of Cork and Ireland were unplayable last weekend, there were no such worries for the members of Cairde Khmer GAA Club.
Last Saturday, the world’s newest GAA club – only established last October – hosted the first-ever Gaelic games to take place in Cambodia. Blarney native Conor Wall is the club chairman – when he’s not busy with his day job as assistant coach, video analyst and translator at Cambodian Premier League team Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC – and he has been able to reflect on a successful weekend which saw 85 players take part, with Thailand winning the men’s football, Saigon Gaels coming out on top in ladies’ football and Thailand coming out on top against a Cambodia/Vietnam mix in an exhibition hurling game.
An estimated 250 spectators took in proceedings in Phnom Penh, with a pitchside party and awards ceremony rounding off an excellent day, to Conor’s satisfaction.
‘All feedback of the feedback has been good,’ he said, ‘people said it was very well organised. They might have just been saying that, but I hope not!’
Conor’s title of ‘chairman’ is a rather nebulous one, even aside from the fact that he trains the Phnom Penh-based Cairde Khmer players once a week (the squad is split between there and Siem Reap).
‘I’ve been over here 12 years now,’ he says, ‘and I speak the language fairly well, so anything that involved taking to locals gets landed with me.
‘One of the first things we needed were goalposts so I bought steel piping and took it to a welder, who had to work from a scrap of paper with the correct dimensions.
‘The great thing is that we’re able to dismantle them, so we have them now for the future.
‘We wanted to get a good pitch so we booked one owned by a posh international school in town, we hired photographers and DJs to get a good atmosphere going, then we had to have an ambulance there too as that’s GAA policy to have a defibrillator on hand.
‘The aim of the tournament was to use sport to develop stronger bonds between Irish and Cambodians, as well as highlight the GAA values of community volunteerism, co-operation and development. I would like to think we went some way to achieving this.’
Cairde Khmer currently has about 80 members across the two cities, with other nationalities such as Cambodian, English, American, Canadian, Swedish, French and Japanese also represented.
The target is to double that number this year, allowing for two men’s and two ladies’ teams with the hope to have Camdobians representing 25 percent of the total.
‘In theory, things should be easier now, though theory isn’t always proven true!’ Conor laughs.
‘We had good foundations in place though and good sponsors. We’ve a good training base now and we’re meeting up once a week, every Wednesday at 7pm.
‘Coming up to tournaments that’ll extend to twice a week and the next big event are the South Asian Games on May 5th in Singapore. Then in November it’s the big one, the Asian Games in Bangkok.
‘Hopefully, we can build on this.’