A nation of athletes: the most popular sports in Ireland

Although not often benefiting from weather that is particularly conducive to outdoor sports and athletics, this has, evidently, not deterred the people of Ireland from taking part in organised sports. And regardless of whether participation comes in the form of being part of a team or watching on as a proud spectator, a huge amount of social life in Ireland revolves around sports of some kind. 

Thanks in part to the recent successes of Irish athletes in a variety of athletic pursuits – which include rugby, rowing, cycling, mixed martial arts and boxing, as well as athletics – the popularity of sports is at an all-time high. With younger generations of fledgling athletes presented with a diverse range of sporting figures to look up to, the future looks bright for Irish sporting achievement. 

Evidently, the broader success of Irish athletes and the growing popularity of sports is having a big impact on the activity levels of Irish people. According to a recent report conducted by Teneo Sport and Sponsorship Index, more citizens than ever are actively tracking their activity levels through the use of fitness devices – currently, this figure stands at 40%.

But how do these two trends translate into the popularity of certain sports in Ireland? Are tastes changing in response to the successes of Irish athletes at the professional level, or are we influenced by the types of activity we actually involve ourselves in?

 With that said, here’s a quick rundown of the most popular sports in Ireland.

Gaelic Games

Quite predictably, the Gaelic Games top the list of the most popular sports in Ireland. These include hurling and Gaelic football, with both games maintaining their historic positions as the most popular sports in Ireland, according to the 2020 Teneo Sports and Sponsorship Index. As the nation’s indigenous sports, the choice makes complete sense, particularly given how central GAA clubs are to the heart of communities across the island.

Beyond the cultural attachment to the Gaelic Games, however, the popularity of GAA has been aided by the sheer level of skill and talent the country has produced in recent years. The Dublin Gaelic football team, in particular, is testament to this, with the current team now standing as one of the most dominant teams the country has ever produced. With over 2,200 GAA clubs across the country cultivating new generations of passionate players and fans, the dominance of GAA looks set to continue.

Soccer

Although Ireland is not necessarily known for the soccer players it has produced to quite the same extent as we have seen in other sports, such as rugby and boxing, this has not deterred Irish sports fans from their passionate dedication to soccer. With well over three billion fans across the world, according to some estimates, it seems somewhat inevitable that Irish sports fans would be seduced by this foreign game – particularly when some of the best teams in the world have their home base just a short flight away across the Irish sea. 

One notable trend in recent years, however, has been the growing interest in the domestic Irish soccer leagues. Although domestic teams have struggled for many years to draw crowds, there has been a revival of appreciation for domestic leagues, thanks in part to their successes at home and abroad.

And if the many betting sites that Irish sports fans frequent are anything to go by, soccer is certainly in a very safe position in terms of its ability to attract a growing fan base in Ireland.

Rugby

Although rugby has had a rather limited appeal across Irish society for much of Ireland’s history, particularly as it had a reputation for being an ‘old boys’ game, this is most certainly not the case in recent years.

 While Ireland has historically produced some great talent when it comes to the gentleman’s game, the national team was never considered to be world class. This all changed with the full professionalisation of rugby, and from the late 1990s onward, Ireland really began to hit its stride in terms of professional talent. 

The successes of key players such as Brian O’Driscoll and Peter Stringer helped to catapult both the league teams and the national team to stardom, with Ireland proving to be a consistently superior team. In the last decade, however, Irish rugby players truly began to hit their stride, even producing a team that was capable of beating the dominant New Zealand team. And while their Rugby World Cup performances haven’t always seen them portrayed in the best light, this has not dampened the support of Irish rugby fans. For this reason, rugby once again takes its place as one of the most popular sports on the island – even coming within a single percentage point of soccer.

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