The first evidence of Gaelic games in Europe dates back to a hurling match in 1774 in Belgium, various games were played across the continent after that with their frequency increasing in the late 20th century. While sporadic attempts were made to form clubs and organise competitions, the first five clubs were only organised into an official ‘Europe County Board’ (GAA terminology) at a meeting in 1999 organised by the the President of the GAA, Joe McDonagh.
Since then, rapid growth has resulted in more than 90 clubs emerging. Clubs are spread across 20 countries from Oulu near the Arctic Circle in Finland to Gibraltar beside the Mediterranean and from the tiny Channel Islands to big cities such as Moscow in Russia. Currently over 5,000 adult players play camogie, hurling, men’s & ladies football, handball and rounders competitions in Europe (excluding Ireland and UK).
The European County Board (ECB) changed its name to Gaelic Games Europe at the Annual Convention in Leuven (Belgium) in November 2016.
In GAA terms ‘Europe’ comprises all of continental Europe (excluding Ireland & Great Britain) with great distances between each team, so Gaelic Games Europe has various competition formats.
Many competitions feature a system of rounds, with each round played in the form of a one-day tournament, with three to five rounds played annually to determine the new champion in each region (football/ladies football) as well the European Camogie and Hurling Championships which are played over five rounds. A tournament is competed in a single day with teams playing a number of 15-30 minute games in groups before moving to knock-out stages (or in a round-robin format) leading to a final. Semi-finals and other ranking games can be played if needed to determine the rankings of every team present on the day. Each team gains a number of points depending on its ranking at each tournament (25 points for the winner, 20 points for the runner-up, etc.). After each tournament points gained are added to those accrued in previous rounds and after the final round the overall rankings determine the championship winner for that season.
Since 2006, football competitions have been played on a regional basis. Europe is divided into five regions: Benelux, East and Central, Iberia, North West and Nordic. From February to August, each team plays in its regional competition. Some regions also have sub-regional structures with their own local competitions (Brittany, Galicia, Andalusia) with competitions running from September to June each season played in normal (single 60 minute games) league and cup formats.
All teams can also play in the European Men’s and Ladies Football Championships (11-a-side) held as a one-day event with teams seeded into different grades (Men: Senior(Champions Cup), Intermediate and Junior / Ladies: Championship, Shield & Plate). The ‘Premier’ championships are for 15-a-side teams in men’s and ladies’ football with the winners representing Europe in the All Ireland Club Championships.
Other matches such as internationals (which have featured France, Italy Germany, Galicia and Brittany) are also played, along with ‘Cup’ competitions usually confined to teams in one country e.g. Finland and Germany.