Irish Lads Who Set Up Cambodia's First GAA Club See Rapid Growth In Size
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As Croke Park gears up for the busiest season of the GAA calendar with the provincial football championships due to kick off in just a few days' time, over 10,000 kilometres away a GAA club in the Southeast Asian country of Cambodia is thriving.
Cáirde Khmer GAA Club was established in 2017 by Tyrone man Paddy Campbell and Cork trio Conor Wall, Peter Downey and Rónán Sheehan. Despite its relatively new status, the club has already achieved success in the South Asian Games and Asian Games competitions.
The club has its roots in Irish travellers and workers in Cambodia who hoped to get a team organised for the upcoming Asian Gaelic Games. Little did the founders know that six years later the club would be winning titles and be enormously popular with the locals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia.
The club's Chairperson, Rónán Sheehan, trained as a firefighter back home in Kanturk, Country Cork before the 2008 recession struck. After first travelling to Thailand, he then made his way to Cambodia where he would eventually play and then run the GAA Club.
Growing and running a GAA club in a Southeast Asian country is no easy task, however. Speaking to the Irish Sun, Rónán Sheehan, said “they tend to stick to soccer, volleyball and Bokator, which is very similar to Muay Thai boxing. So, they were wary of Gaelic football at first, but they gradually started coming more and more.
This is an unfair society in many ways and one example would be that foreigners tend to earn a higher wage than the local Khmer people in various sectors.
“They are always up against it, so we’ve always maintained that they have a home in our club, and they play for free.”
One of those who has benefited from the club is 14-year-old ThidaAva, or Ava for short. Abandoned as a child, Ava was raised by an NGO which looked after disadvantaged children in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
The BBC reported that in 2018, Ava was introduced to the club and has since gone on to be one of the coaches' favourites at the club. This is in a very patriarchal country where women are constantly facing an uphill battle for equality.
So what’s next for Cáirde Khmer?
Well, Sheehan and the rest of the organisers at the club are currently fundraising to send a team of Cambodian players to the World Games in Derry this summer to compete in the non-Irish category and represent the Asian county board.
Writing on the GoFundMe page that was set up to help raise the funds, Sheehan says “a fairy-tale ending always begins with peril until a hero comes along to navigate the treacherous road to triumph. These players and this team deserve the chance to be the heroes of their own chapter.
With your help, they can be all that and more. This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to Europe for these players. Please help us on our journey to the promised land. Cáirde Khmer Abú!!”
You can read about the club and donate to their fundraising efforts by clicking here.