Martina Rooney of Milltown and Madrid Harps.
Martina Rooney, Rathconrath: ‘An opportunity to do what I love’
When Rathconrath native Martina Rooney moved to Madrid in 2003 the one thing she missed “most of all”, she says, apart from her family, was football.
Primary school teacher Martina’s lifelong love affair with football began as a youngster playing with home club Milltown. An intercounty player at underage and senior level (“with little success, unlike the current bunch”), within a few months of arriving in the Spanish capital to work, she sated her football cravings by helping establish the city’s first GAA club, Madrid Harps.
Fast forward 10 years and the club is thriving with a multi-national membership of over 100 members and teams for ladies, men and children.
“Initially, when the club got going, it gave me an opportunity to do what I loved; play football, but very soon, it became a great way of meeting Irish people in a similar situation, and of course it enabled me to meet locals (the “Madrileños”), with whom I could practise my Spanish.”
For the many Irish that arrive in Madrid every year, whether they stay short-term or settle, the existence of the club provides, in some small way, a little bit of home away from home. “It attracts those who have played week-in, week-out back home and like me, miss it terribly. However, and more surprisingly, it also attracts those who have never even kicked an O’Neill’s football or even put on a pair football boots!
“Without doubt, a huge factor in the success of our club is the presence and on-going commitment of several Spaniards who, for varying reasons, are attracted to Gaelic football and all the craic that goes with it.”
Morgan Fagg, Athlone
One of Martina’s fellow Harps is Morgan Fagg from Athlone, who is teaching English near Madrid. Prior to living in Spain, his last participation in a football game was as a sub for Coosan NS in a county final in 1994. Morgan says that joining the team has been a big help, socially and professionally. “Firstly I get a great kick, excuse the pun, from exercising with a team. If your Español isn’t good then having some English speaking friends to meet and get advice from is a must. My network of GAA contacts has meant Spanish people referring me to people who live near me. It’s a small world.
“My advice to anyone leaving Ireland and moving to a major city is, get on the mailing list to hear about events, even if you have never played GAA before. Coosan NS may not want me back as a sub but I’m happy playing Gaelic football internationally.”
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