IN A CITY that never sleeps, amidst the skyscrapers, Lake Michigan and general hustle and bustle, lies a small but close-knit Ladies Gaelic football club.
Despite the abundance of male clubs, there are just two senior female sides in Chicago – one north of the city and one southside.
Located just 15 minutes from the heart of downtown, Aisling Gaels is the northside club, formed in December 2008 by local Irish girls living in the city.
Every year, the Gaels welcome girls on both graduate and J1 visas to play alongside their resident members, helping temporary players with employment and accommodation.
“We pride our club on the great friendships we have made over the years with players home and abroad while winning local and national championships,” club chairperson Anne Marie McCormack told The42.
The Windy City club have numerous titles to their name both from Chicago competitions and further afield, among them a North American Junior A Championship from 2015 and two Intermediate North American titles won in 2011 and 2013.
“We’re a small club built on big hearts for winning and each other. We train hard, but play and party harder,” McCormack continued.
“I only started playing Gaelic football in my early twenties when friends of mine decided to start the club. Being first generation Irish here in the states, I am surprised I never got involved with the sport at a younger age.
“Our American players learn so much from the experienced players who always help encourage them. It creates great camaraderie among our team.”
This year, the club fielded two teams, competing at both senior and junior level. The senior side progressed to the North American Finals in Seattle, but were narrowly beaten by a strong San Francisco contingent in the semi-final.
Aisling Gaels sanctioned at least 20 J1 visa players this summer, with most of them living together for three months. One of these players was Kate Fitzgibbon from Dublin’s O’Tooles club.
“Some of us arrived in June not knowing what to expect from the summer. We genuinely had the time of our lives!” the Dublin U21 star told The42.
“The hard work and dedication of the home-based players (both American and Irish) in the club cannot be commended enough and they will truly make it their best interest for you to have a summer you won’t forget.
You wouldn’t think that from just three months with a team could you become as closely bonded as your club at home but certainly my expectations were proven wrong and it does feel just like home.
“The craic you’ll have in Gaelic Park on a Sunday couldn’t be written and you’ll cherish these days when you come home and wish you were back.”
Despite most of the football happening in summer time, the club also welcomes players throughout the year on graduate visas.
Kate Brennan played with Aisling Gaels on her J1 in 2014, and returned shortly after on a graduate visa.
“Leaving your close-knitted clubs at home in Ireland, you never expect to get that same bond from playing with a team across the pond. Well, my expectations were wrong. The team becomes your family for the summer,” Brennan said.
“Making the decision to play with Aisling Gaels will leave you with endless memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.” McCormack finished.
If you’re interested in going to Chicago to play football, get in touch with Aisling Gaels – Chicago Ladies Football on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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