A COUPLE of interested onlookers peered through the bushes that encircled the astroturf facilty where over 150 kids were playing football and hurling on a number of pitches.
They were fascinated to watch these kids, ranging from Under 12 to Under 18, playing a sport they had never seen before, writes John Melvin.
Boys, and girls, contesting for possession of a ball, soloing a few yards, the odd hop, passing back and forward to each other and some trying to place the ball between a set of posts at either end of the pitch.
A normal day occurence if you pass any GAA club or school pitch in Ireland but this is Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, and home to nine million people, where, for the first time, the Asian Youth Championships were staged.
The name of Joe McDonagh, All-Ireland winning senior hurler with Galway and former GAA president, may not be too well known in Asia but his memory was honoured by the Irish Diaspora with the naming of the inaugural cup. He was a major supporter of the Asian GAA scene and his legacy was very apparent in Hanoi.
It is mid-November and myself and my other half are enjoying the sweltering heat, possibly thinking of families back home where we hear the country is in the grip of a very cold spell of weather.
As the screetches and laughter of kids ring out in the background, I think of all the days I have watched games in pretty dire condtions - rain, sleet and even snow at times (not forgetting the fog) - and mused just how wonderful it would be if we got this kind of weather more often in Ireland.
I had images of Sean Rice and myself wearing shorts at the county senior final. I know - it doesen't bear thinking about!
Anyway, returning to reality, I watch kids from Korea, China, Vietnam, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur all showing off the skills they have learned, many from Irish boys and girls who are working all over Asia - some teaching English, others earning good money and enjoying a high standard of living working for indigenous companies who find the Irish among the best in striking the right balance between work and social activity.
Like the Irish monks who spread religion across the globe, the Irish have brought their indigenous games of football and hurling, along with their unique culture, abroad with them, and it would seem the Asian kids like what they see and want more, with most clubs reporting increased membership each year as the popularity of Gaelic games continues to spread.
Gaelic football has long been played across Asia to a very high standard but in recent years there has been a focus on developing the underage side of the game and clubs such as Seoul Gaels, Shanghai, Viet Celts, Singapore Lions and Hong Kong have seen the sport flourish at the schools and club level.
The growth of the sport in Asia was showcased at home last summer when Under 12 teams from Seoul and Shanghai travelled to Ireland and competed against each other at the half-time game at the Connaught final and also played in Croke Park during one of the All-Ireland quarterfinals.
Gaelic football has helped the Irish community in Asia further integrate with each host nation and judging by the high number of local kids, coaches and mentors involved in the competition in Hanoi, it's been a huge success to date.
To further help the underage sport to develop and take root in Asia, and indeed globally, the GAA and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have begun to award grants in recent years, and this has led to a huge expansion in the number of clubs and schools taking part in the sport. In some countries like Vietnam, Singapore and South Korea, Gaelic football is actually being taught as a PE sport.
Like everything else in the GAA, without volunteers all this would not be possible and a special tribute was paid to the energetic Jim Kieran and the Viet Celt Club, who organsied the event and made it such a memorbale day for kids, parents and supporters.
There were tributes too for Asian County Board chairman Joe Trolan, a native of Derry, who is a huge driving force, and Castlebar's Conor Melvin, who is the Asian children's officer. Joe and his commitee worked hard to secure funding for the event and ensured that competitions throughout Asia, such as the Asian hurling tournament in Bangkok and the Asian Gaelic Games in Shanghai, ran sucessfully last year.
Plans are already afoot for the staging of the 2017 Asian Gaelic Games in Bangkok, while Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong aim to host the next Asian Youth Championships.
Pictured below is Ballyhaunis native Jonathan Cleary, who is treasurer of the Asian GAA Board, with his son Callum who played in the Asian Youth Championships in Hanoi.
Below: Seoul (right) versus Shanghai, action from the Asian GAA Youth Championships held in Hanoi in November.