Sport in Northern Ireland

Sport in Northern Ireland

Sport in Northern Ireland is important in the lives of many people. Some sports are organised on an all-Ireland basis, for example Rugby Union, Gaelic football, Basketball, Hockey and Cricket whereas others, like association football, are organised on a separate basis for Northern Ireland. [ [ How do other sports in the island cope with the situation?] The Herald, April 3, 2008]

Gaelic Games

Gaelic games include Gaelic football, hurling, Gaelic handball and rounders.

Governing body

The governing body is the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). The GAA is divided into Provincial Boards in Ireland and abroad. In Ireland, the four Provincial Boards are Munster GAA, Ulster GAA, Connacht GAA and Leinster GAA. By attendance figures, Gaelic football is Ireland's most popular sport, with attendances of well over 80,000 for the more prestigious fixtures. GAA in the six counties of Northern Ireland is controlled by the Ulster GAA Provincial Board, which includes all nine counties of Ulster. Football is by far the most popular of the GAA sports in Ireland, followed by hurling.


Every footballer or hurler plays for a local club, with the best players being selected for county panels. Each county has its own County Championship, with the winners going on to play in the Ulster Senior Club Football Championship or Ulster Senior Club Hurling Championship. Crossmaglen Rangers are currently the most successful football club in Northern Irelnad.

The County teams play in pre-season competitions the National Football League, which serves as preparation for the Ulster Senior Football Championship and All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. The hurling equivalents are the National Hurling League, Ulster Senior Hurling Championship and All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship In recent years, the most successful football teams from Northern Ireland have been Tyrone GAA and Armagh GAA. Hurling teams from Northern Ireland have found it difficult to make an impact against the top counties from the Republic, with Antrim GAA the most successful.

County players may be selected for the Ulster provincial side to play in the Railway Cup. At international level, footballers can play for the Ireland International Rules Football team against the best Australian Rules Football players from Australia. Hurlers playing in the lower divisions of the All-Ireland championship are eligible to play against the best shinty players from Scotland in the Composite rules Shinty/Hurling.

Association Football

The Irish Football Association (IFA) is the organising body for football (soccer) in Northern Ireland, and had historically been the governing body for the whole of the island. It should not be confused with the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), which is the organising body in the Republic of Ireland.

The IFA sits on the International Football Association Board, which is responsible for the laws of the game.

The Northern Ireland Women's Football Association (NIWFA) is the IFA's women's football arm. It runs a Women's Cup, Women's League and the Northern Ireland women's national football team.

Domestic competitions

The domestic leagues is the Irish Football League. Some of the major teams include Glentoran FC and Linfield FC. Derry City FC is based in Northern Ireland but plays in the Republic of Ireland's league.

The Milk Cup is a successful international youth tournament held annually in Northern Ireland, in which clubs and national teams from anywhere in the world may compete. Northern Ireland also played host to the 2005 UEFA Under-19 European Championships.

The Setanta Sports Cup was set up by its sponsors, television channel Setanta Ireland. It is an all-island mini-World Cup style tournament (two groups of four, then semis and final) featuring eight teams, four being from the League of Ireland and four from the Irish League. Despite fairly low turnouts for each jurisdictions leagues, the Setanta Cup drew relatively successful gate receipts and in its three-year existence has had one winner from the North (Linfield in 2005).

National team

Northern Ireland's international team, despite a poor run of form in the late 1990s and first few years of the 21st century, and a corresponding slump in the FIFA World Rankings, enjoyed great success in the early and mid 80's and recently have had a revival in their fortunes under manager former Lawrie Sanchez, with home wins over Spain and England.

Most of the players come from the English or Scottish leagues although occasional appearances of Irish League players have been known.

Rugby Union

Rugby union is a popular team sport played in Ireland. The sport is organised on an all-Ireland basis with one team, governing body and league for both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Governing body

The Irish Rugby Football Union are the governing body for rugby union in Ireland. The IRFU is divided into four branches which represent the four provinces of Ireland: Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht.


"See also" Irish rugby union system

Irish provinces compete in the Celtic League, now sponsored by Magners, against Welsh regions and Scotland super-districts. The Irish provinces also compete in the Heineken Cup and Connacht compete in the European Challenge Cup.

Competitions have taken place since the late 1800s with the modern day Inter Provincial Championship between Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht first contested in 1920.

Another focus for the domestic game in Ireland is the All Ireland League. This was started in 1990 and has now expanded to three divisions.


According to the IRB Ireland has 201 rugby union clubs; 614 referees; 25,000 pre-teen male players; 35,000 teen male players; 14,500 senior male players (total male players 74,500) as well as 10,000 pre-teen female players; 800 teen female players; 1,200 senior female players (total female players 12,000). The IRFU [ Annual Report for season 2006-2007] reported playing figures within Ireland as follows:
*Adult Male Players: 21740
*Women Players: 1756
*Number of Secondary Schools Players: 23586
*Number of Youth Players: 12472
*Number of Mini Rugby Players: 10967
*Primary School: 32209


In Northern Ireland rugby union has traditionally been seen as a unionist sport with nationalists preferring to play Gaelic Athletic Association sports.

In many ways secondary schools are the heart of rugby union in Ireland. Notable rugby union schools include Crescent College, Christian Brothers College, Cork, Presentation Brothers College, Cork, St. Conleth's College, Rockwell College, Clongowes Wood College, Belvedere College, Blackrock College, Mount Temple, St. Michael's College, Terenure College Castleknock College also Garbally College, The Jez, Marist College and Sligo Grammar from Connacht and the Belfast giants Campbell college, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Methodist College Belfast.

Current trends

The professional era and the advent of the Celtic League and Heineken Cup has seen rugby union become a major spectator sport in Ireland. European Cup games are generally well supported in all the provinces with sell outs the norm and massive crowds in Dublin's Lansdowne Road for the Quarter and Semis which Ulster have won and Munster and Leinster have reached. Ulster have led the Celtic League attendances for 3 years in the row and Connacht, Munster and Leinster's crowds have grown year on year. All the provinces are planning major ground upgrades to increase capacity and comfort.

Ireland international games sell out against all but the weakest opposition, and with the team playing at Croke Park this year the attendances may reach 80,000.

The All-Ireland national team

The Ireland national team are considered by the IRB to be in the first tier.

Ireland contest the Millennium Trophy with England as part of the Six Nations Championship.

Every four years the British and Irish Lions go on tour with players from Ireland as well as England, Scotland and Wales.

ee also

*Sport in Ireland
*Sport in the United Kingdom


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