Late last year, Hong Kong GAA began preparations to host the 2020 North Asian Games.
It was to be their first time hosting a tournament since 2015 and they would be welcoming GAA teams from all over North Asia including Shanghai, Beijing, Japan and Korea.
As part of those preparations, they developed an ingenious solution to the issue of GAA goalposts for the tournament.
“We had looked into getting proper posts from back home in Ireland which are incredibly expensive and also charged a lot of money to get out here in shipping”, explained Hong Kong GAA club chairman Shane Moore, a Donegal native living and teaching in the area since 2015.
And so they decided to turn to local materials and a plant that can withstand pretty much any pressure it is put under – bamboo.
“The vice-chairman of the club Stephen Troy works in construction out here so he knew some lads with materials, he knew some lads who could manufacture them so he has built bamboo posts that we planned on using for the tournament.”
Hong Kong GAA is a club that boasts men’s and women’s teams in both codes and they have been highly competitive at previous North Asian and Asian Games. As with most exile clubs, it is a social outlet for the Irish abroad who are trying to find their feet, a constant and dependable link to home. And that is how Moore first got involved.
“When I moved out here, I didn’t actually know anybody in Hong Kong so I decided to go to Gaelic training just to meet some Irish people.
“When I moved over, there were some people leaving the Gaelic committee. To be honest, I’d never been on a committee before but I decided to help out a wee bit. I stayed on the committee, went in as secretary and then I took over as chairman in January.”
It’s not just the Irish ex-pats who partake in GAA in the region, however, as many of the locals have also grown a love for the sport and joined the club.
“I’m married to a local out here and she has been playing Gaelic over here for three years now”, Moore explained.
“On the girls side, there would be nearly 50% non-Irish, the lads, not so much.
“My wife went to one or two camogie sessions and she can’t get the hang of it at all. Others take to it a lot more.
“There was a Hong Kong C ladies football team in Kuala Lumpur, they didn’t actually have enough, there’s 12 on a squad, and they were a few players short. So they actually got some players from Cambodia GAA who were actually local Cambodians to play on their team.”
They meet once a week for training, twice in the build-up to a major tournament. As well as that, the club organises its own competitions one or two Saturday’s a month to keep the competitive edge in the teams.
That edge was evident in the fact that they brought three men’s teams and three women’s teams to the 2019 Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur. For them to be honoured with hosting duties for this year’s North Asian Games was a further nod to their dedication to growing the games in Hong Kong.
The tournament was due to be held in June, however, like so many other sporting events, it has fallen victim to the outbreak of Covid-19.
The situation in Hong Kong appeared to be improving, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses that had been closed since January were beginning to reopen and civil servants had returned to work. However, a number of cases in the past few days has seen the region suffer a setback, as Moore explains.
“There have been new cases [on Thursday] but a couple of days ago there had been 57 cases for the past two weeks and 50 of them had been from people returning from Europe and India and Egypt and the other seven almost all had contact with the 50. There had been no new cases up to then. [On Thursday] we had 20 plus cases which was the most since it started at the end of January.
“Things had started to open up again last week. Civil servants have been back a couple of weeks, a restaurant near me had been closed and opened up again. But because of the big surge in the number of cases returning from Europe, I don’t know if things will get any more relaxed or if we’ll go on lockdown again.
“There’s an area in Hong Kong called Lan Kwai Fong, LKF, it’s mostly ex-pats would hang out there, ex-pat bars and that’s being investigated now because it had six new cases from the bars in those areas over the past two days.”
The inevitable news came last week that the North Asian Games were postponed.
“We had a feeling it was going to be cancelled. But last week we got confirmation. To be honest, the situation in Hong Kong wouldn’t even be the problem now, it would be more so everywhere else. Hong Kong seemed to be getting better.
“It was definitely disappointing but it was right.”
Usually, the club would return to training at the end of February but between the protests that have dominated the headlines in the region for almost a year and the outbreak of Covid-19, training has been impossible with the closure of public pitches. An integral social outlet has been taken away from their Irish contingent.
Hope still remains that some level of normality will return and the games can go ahead later this year.
“They’re trying to postpone it, if we can postpone the pitches and the hotels and everything until September, then we’ll be able to host it so long as all the travel restrictions are lifted and clubs actually want to travel, want to come and play.”
And so, while they will have to wait a while longer for their debut, the bamboo posts remain in storage ready for action whenever they are called upon.