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British army regiment to field official London GAA team

President Michael D Higgins (right) meets the Irish Guards wolfhound mascot with the Duke of Edinburgh (centre) at Windsor Castle last year. Picture by Peter Macdiarmid/Press Association
Ed Carty

THE Irish Guards have been promised a strong, physical contest after becoming the first British Army regiment allowed to compete in GAA sports.

The army team will take part in the junior championships in London after the new club was narrowly cleared to join the GAA at a meeting of the London County Board on Monday.

Fifteen players have already put their names down to play, including some Irish-born former minor and under 21 players and soldiers from Fiji and South Africa.

Part of the Irish Guards application to join the GAA's amateur sporting ranks referenced how the Fijians wanted to play a "strong, physical game that would suit them".

Chairman of the London County Board Noel O'Sullivan said "and that's what they'll get".

A spokesman for the British Army said: "The Armed Forces have a strong sporting background and the Irish Guards are no exception.

"With a strong link to Ireland there is no doubt that there are some highly capable GAA players in the ranks keen to show their prowess at competition level."

The regiment, whose Colonel-in-Chief is British royal the Duke of Cambridge, applied to join the association several months ago.

A vote on the application ended tied last night with the chair using his casting ballot to accept the new club after a presentation by Irish Guards Sergeant Ken Fox.

Under the GAA's rule 21, British armed forces and police were banned from joining the association and playing Gaelic games for more than a century. The ban was eventually lifted in 2001.

Mr O'Sullivan said: "Very simply for me I can see both sides. I can appreciate the way people feel."

"But we have to move forward, don't dwell on the past."

The new club, going under the name Garda Eireannach, will be open to anyone living in areas surrounding the regiment's base in Hounslow Cavalry Barracks, west London.

They will initially play Gaelic football and are said to be considering offering hurling to members in the future.

The regiment, which was formed on April 1 1900 by Queen Victoria, draws most recruits from Northern Ireland but also accepts soldiers from the Republic and communities across Britain with strong Irish connections.

The regiment's mascot is an Irish Wolfhound and St Patrick's Day is traditionally marked with presentations of shamrocks by the British Royal Family.

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