From Cleveland, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia –
How a Random Facebook Message Got Me a Ticket to Play in the Asian Gaelic Games
By Marcelina Sladewska
As I prepared to travel for my solo trip halfway across the globe, I got the idea to reach out to many Gaelic teams in all the countries I was scheduled to visit, to make friends, share a pint and sure, maybe get some kicks in. Thinking not much of it, I sent out a friendly message, including my timeline of visit and pressed send.
Responses trickled in, some went radio silent, but the one that caught my attention was Thailand GAA.
“Hi Marcelina. Please like us on FB. We have a big tournament in Kuala Lumpur in early November. You could always change your plans and come play with us.”
Asian Gaelic Games, over 800 players … Umm is this message for real? I thought. Can this even be possible? I continued to inquire, and to my amazement, everything started falling into place.
I had not booked all my flights yet; my itinerary was flexible; they needed players, and my skill level was up to par, at least I felt it was.
But before I said yes, I reached out to my Gaelic Ladies team and unanimously they affirmed what I had already wanted to do. Because, why not? What’s not to like?
Why not travel halfway across the globe to play a sport you only decided to play eight months ago? This is obviously what everyone does! So, I completed my registration, made contact with the ladies’ rep for some more details, booked my flight, and reserved a hotel. Just like that, I’m going, and so I went.
Traveling with only one 38L backpack, I brought the essentials: my boots and gloves, and a ton of sunscreen, because Malaysia in November has temperatures of 90° F and humidity that makes Cleveland’s summer feel silly in comparison. My first stop was Paris, where besides seeing the Eiffel Tower and walking the Champs-Élysées on my first day, I joined the Paris Gaels GAA Club to curb my jet lag and participate in an intensive two-hour long Monday practice. It was a perfect way to refresh my soloing skills.
The Asian Gaelic Games Tournament officially began Friday November 8th. I had this excitement and anticipation while on my flight regarding this whole experience. But as I walked into the Convention Center for the Opening Ceremonies, my mind was put to ease.
I was just about to meet my new Thailand Teammates. The night was filled with pomp and frill; welcome speeches and introductions; endless food and beverages; a proper way to start the fun. Although the fun would have continued had we let it, we headed back to our hotels to get ready for the actual games.
On Saturday I caught the morning shuttle taking us to the equestrian fields. My mind was still in a daze, not only from some jet lag and lack of sleep, but the fact that I was about to be playing Gaelic football with girls I’d never met and never played with before seemed surreal.
I tried not to be nervous, but I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Gaelic football is a unique sport that attracts fun and super friendly people; I felt right at home. To them, I was the backpacker girl. Just like me, they had no idea how some unexpected girl from the States found her way here.
We played four games on Saturday, and to my amazement, I wasn’t that bad! I moved up to the forward position and successfully scored two goals in our last game, which contributed to a win.
The exhilaration was incredible. The games were hot and sweaty and all the teams we played were strong, so to win and assist in the win was a highlight to this whole experience.
Sunday also started early. With only two games scheduled, I was determined to get some points in again. I found myself tired for numerous reasons, but the excitement kept me going. We won one game and lost the other; determined to score, I gave it my all and successfully punched the ball in for a goal!
With an incredible completion of the tournament, I now had time to relax and cheer for some of my new teammates during their games, as well as watch the Men’s Final between Hong Kong and Singapore.
So many people have found their way to Asia for work, or school internships, or life, but what brings them together is GAA; the family atmosphere; and love of the sport. Thailand GAA is a large club with many hurlers and footballers, both women and men. The sportsmanship and family atmosphere this club creates made me think of what I have back home.
Not only did I fall in love with Gaelic Football, but I fell in love with this Club family. The entire weekend wrapped up in a dance off, and with so many emotions and feelings, I parted ways from my new friends and continued on to my next stop. Nepal.
*Marcelina Weronika Sladewska is a proud Clevelander and immigrant of Poland. She joined the St. Pat & St. Jarlath’s Gaelic Football Club in 2019 and currently holds the Public Relations Officer position of the Cleveland GAA. She currently works as Special Projects Manager at Cuyahoga Landbank, putting her Urban Studies degree to good use. She enjoys the outdoors, unique sports, art and design, and exploring new cities.