Comparison of Australian rules football and Gaelic football

A Comparison of Australian rules football and Gaelic football is possible because of the games' similarities and the presence of International Rules Football, a hybrid code developed to allow players from both codes to participate in tests.

A key difference between the codes is that the highest level Gaelic Football is strictly amateur, whereas Australian rules football offers professional (Australian Football League) and semi-professional (VFL, SANFL, WAFL, etc) levels of competition. Players have successfully made the transition to top levels in both codes, and because Australian rules football is played at the professional level, there is a strong financial lure for players to switch from Gaelic to Australian football.


Table of Comparison

This list is incomplete

Rule or Term Australian rules football Gaelic football
Length of Game 4 quarters (4 x 20 minutes + time on) (total approx 100 minutes) 2 halves (2 x 35 minutes + extra time) (total 70-80 minutes)
Start of Game Bounce and Ruck contest (one player from each side only) Ball up and contest (between four midfielders)
Ball shape oval (prolate spheroid) spherical
Ball size 720-735mm circumference, 545-555mm from end to end 686mm-737mm in circumference
Ball weight 400–450 grams 370–425 grams
Uniform (jumper) no or long sleeves short or long sleeve
Shape oval rectangle
Length 135-185m 130–145m
Width 135-185m 80–90m
Goal width 6.4 m 6.5 m
Goal height Unlimited 2.5 m
Point width 19.2 m 6.5 m
Point height Unlimited Unlimited
Advancing the ball
Methods of disposal kick, handball (fist) kick, handpass (open hand tap or fist)
Maximum running distance allowed Must bounce ball every 15 metres Must bounce or solo (kick to self) every 4 steps (can't bounce twice consecutively)
Ball goes out of bounds throw-in; if out on full or ruled deliberate, free kick to opposite team free kick to opposite team
Contesting Possession
Tackling full body tackling allowed above knees, below shoulders. free kick to tackler if player in possession does not dispose if ruled to have had prior opportunity. ball- up if ruled not to have had prior opportunity wrestling or slapping the ball from the player in possession only
Bumping (hip or shoulder charging) any player within 5 metres of player in possession player in possession only
Catching the ball free kick (mark) is paid if ball travels 15 metres or more if off a kick, play on if off a handpass irrespective of distance play on
Picking up ball no restrictions foot only (no restrictions in women's game)
Goal 6 points 3 points
Point 1 point (behind) 1 point
Score goals by foot or shin only foot or shin if ball is being carried, any part if ball if loose or from a pass
Score points by any part of body (rushed) any part of body (usually foot)
Goalkeeper No Yes


Australian rules football playing field
Diagram of a Gaelic football pitch

Both codes use grassed fields of similar length, however Australian rules football fields are oval shaped, slightly longer and wider, usually cricket fields. Another key difference is the score posts. Australian rules consists of four posts without a crossbar or net, whereas Gaelic football consists of two posts with crossbar and net.

The Gaelic football pitch is rectangular, stretching 130–145 metres long and 80–90 metres wide. There are H-shaped goalposts at each end with a net on the bottom section. Lines are marked at distances of 13 m, 20 m and 45 m from each end-line.

An Australian rules football playing field, is oval shaped, and may be 135–185 m long and 110–155 m wide. It has a centre circle, centre square to control player positioning at start of play, and superficial markings including the 50 metre lines and goal squares.

Goal posts are 6.4 metres wide for both codes.


An Australian football.
Gaelic football


The obvious difference is the ball used.

Australian rules uses an oval ball (a prolate spheroid), similar to a rugby ball. This makes a difference in the variety and style of kicking. Whereas Australian rules is capable of producing a diverse range of kicking styles, the drop punt is most commonly used in the modern game, more so at professional levels.

Gaelic football uses a round ball similar to a soccer or volleyball. The round ball in Gaelic football has the tendency for its flight to curve while in the air.


Australian rules has evolved to have sleeveless jumpers, similar to basketball tops, whereas Gaelic footballers wear short sleeved outfits similar to soccer or rugby tops.


Australian rules matches typically go for 80 minutes consisting of four 20 minute quarters (plus added time on) .

Gaelic football matches go for 70 minutes consisting of two halves.

Advancing the ball

In both games, players must dispose of the ball correctly, by hand or by foot and the ball must not be thrown. Gaelic football deems the open hand tap to be legitimate disposal, whereas Australian rules enforces the handpass or disposal with a clenched fist.

Unlike other forms of football, both games are notably distinct because of the absence of an offside rule.

In both games, a player must bounce (or Solo in Gaelic) the ball while running.

Tackles and blocks

See also tackle (football move)

Australian rules allows full tackling above the knees and below the shoulders, whereas Gaelic football explicitly disallows tackling.

Both sports allow "shepherding" or blocking, although in Australian rules, bumping is allowed on players not in possession of the ball, whereas in Gaelic it is limited to use on players in possession of the ball.

Gaining Possession

Both games begin with the ball in the air, whereas Australian rules has a bounce down and allows only two players to contest the bounce.

Both Gaelic football and Australian rules football are open contested and free flowing games.

The main difference is the awarding of a mark for any clean catch of over 15 metres in Australian rules, which results in a free kick or possession of the ball. This rule has never existed in Gaelic and is a fundamental difference between the two games. High marking or speckies are one of the most important spectator attributes of Australian rules. In Gaelic football, regardless of a clean catch, a player must play on.

In Australian rules, when a ball is kicked out of bounds on the full, it is a free kick to the opposite team to the player who kicked the ball.

Australian rules allows picking the ball up directly off the ground whereas Gaelic football does not (the ball must only be picked up by foot).

Another key difference is that in Australian rules, tackling is allowed to either dispossess a player or cause the player to be caught holding the ball which results in a free kick. Gaelic football does not have such a rule.

Possession may change in different ways in both games:-

  • When an umpire/referee awards a free kick to an opposition player
  • Following an unsuccessful kick at goal.
  • When an opposing player intercepts a pass.
  • When the player in possession drops the ball and it is recovered by an opposition player.
  • When the ball is wrestled from a player's possession

In both codes, tactical kicking is an important aspect of play.


In Australian rules penalties available (in increasing order of severity) are:

  • free kicks (loss of possession)
  • distance penalties (often in multiples of 15, 25 or 50 metres)
  • reporting (to be sent to a tribunal post-match for suspension from future matches and/or paying a fine)
  • ordering off (similar to a red card in association football (soccer), not used in the Australian Football League)

In Gaelic football the penalties available (in increasing order of severity) are:

  • free kicks (loss of possession)
  • distance penalties (often in multiples of 13 metres)
  • penalty kicks
  • black card (also known as a tick, used to note an offence not serious enough for a yellow card)
  • yellow card (cautioning a player, similar to association football (soccer))
  • red card (player ejected from the game without replacement, similar to association football (soccer))


In both codes goals can be kicked by foot or shin. Gaelic football does not enforce this, however and goals may also be scored by other parts of the body.

A goal is worth 3 points in Gaelic football and 6 points in Australian rules football.

In both games, a point may be awarded for missing the goal. In Gaelic football, this is scored above the crossbar (known simply as a point[1]). In Australian rules, this is scored between the shorter post and the goal post (known as a behind).

There are usually many more goals scored in Australian rules, as there is no goalkeeper position and the scoring area larger.


Many of the positions have similar names and are very similar. There is no ruckman in Gaelic football and there is no goalkeeper in Australian rules, instead there is a fullback, although it must be said that the fullback In Australian rules is not required to guard a goal in the same way that a goalkeeper does.

A maximum of 15 players can play Gaelic football on the field at any one time whereas Australian rules permits 18 players.


See also Origins of Australian rules football, History of Gaelic football and Relationship between Gaelic football and Australian rules football.

The Australian game was codified first by the Melbourne Football Club in 1859, whereas Gaelic Football was codified by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1887. Gaelic football was not officially organised in Australia until 1956. The first compromise games between the two codes did not occur until 1967. Australian rules football was not officially played in Ireland until 2000.

The similarities of the two games have caused their respective origins to become subject to some study and debate. While it is clear even to casual observers that Australian rules football is similar to Gaelic football, the exact relationship is unclear.

Gaelic football is thought to have originated with the ancient Irish game of caid.

Australian rules football was definitely influenced by rugby football, as Tom Wills — the founder of Australian rules — attended Rugby School. Historians such as Martin Flanagan have also suggested that Wills was influenced by an Australian Aboriginal game, Marn Grook, as Wills was known to associate and advocate for the indigenous people and grew up in the area of the tribes which played the game.[2] However it has been argued by other historians of Australian rules, such as Geoffrey Blainey, that the origins of Australian rules lie purely with rugby and other English public school football games. A corollary of this argument is that the resemblances of Australian rules and Gaelic football to each other are coincidental and the result of something akin to parallel or convergent evolution.

However, many historians have argued otherwise. For example, the historian B. W. O'Dwyer points out that Australian football has always been differentiated from rugby football by having no limitation on ball or player movement (in the absence of an offside rule), the need to bounce the ball (or toe-kick it, known as a solo in Gaelic football) while running, punching the ball (hand-passing) rather than throwing it, and other traditions. As O'Dwyer says:

These are all elements of Irish football. There were several variations of Irish football in existence, normally without the benefit of rulebooks, but the central tradition in Ireland was in the direction of the relatively new game [i.e. rugby]...adapted and shaped within the perimeters of the ancient Irish game of hurling... [These rules] later became embedded in Gaelic football. Their presence in Victorian football may be accounted for in terms of a formative influence being exerted by men familiar with and no doubt playing the Irish game. It is not that they were introduced into the game from that motive [i.e. emulating Irish games]; it was rather a case of particular needs being met...

O'Dwyer's argument relies heavily on the presence of Irish immigrants on the Victorian goldfields during the Victorian goldrushes of the 1850s, and a comparison of the two modern games. While it is highly likely that Gaelic football was heavily influenced by the ancient Irish games of hurling and caid, his argument that elements of Irish football were present in early forms of Australian rules football have been disputed by other historians. For example, the 1859 Melbourne rules did not have a requirement for players to bounce the ball while running. On the other hand, this was not a requirement in caid either.[citation needed]

It is also possible that both Gaelic football and Australian rules shared other influences. Archbishop Thomas Croke, one of the founders of the GAA, lived in New Zealand between 1870 to 1875. It is likely that the Melbourne rules were introduced to New Zealand by Victorians emigrating during the central Otago goldrush of 1861. By 1863, the code played by the Christchurch Football Club in New Zealand (the Christchurch rules), required players to bounce the ball every few yards, at around the same time that the same rule was included in the Melbourne rules. It is possible that Croke had opportunities to witness the Melbourne and/or Christchurch rules being played.

Such claims are regarded by many people as purely circumstantial evidence for a relationship between the two codes.

Like Australian rules, the Irish football games of the 1880s allowed players to grab or push each other. However the two games were soon developing and diverging, largely in isolation from each other.

Both games are immensely popular in their country of origin and International rules test between the two peak bodies of Australia and Ireland are popular and relatively evenly contested.

Both games are emerging from largely provincial backgrounds and are growing internationally, although the rate of growth of Australian football around the world has increased in recent decades. Gaelic Football has been played for longer outside of Ireland than Australian rules football outside of Oceania, primarily in areas of the Irish Diaspora, the North American GAA and Europe GAA. In the 21st century Gaelic Football has increased in popularity in Asia.

See also


  1. ^ Gaelic Athletic Association (April 2008). Gaelic Athletic Association Official Guide – Part 2, p. 60. Accessed on 2008-09-23.
  2. ^ Touchstone of Australian Life by Martin Flanagan
  3. ^ B. W. O'Dwyer, March 1989, "The Shaping of Victorian Rules Football", Victorian Historical Journal, v.60, no.1.

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