When "Little Ronaldo" Phu started playing Gaelic football two years ago, he did not think about winning any championship.
The brisk cheerful boy, who has found a home at the non-profit foundation Blue Dragon, just loves hand passing the ball, kicking dirt and chasing around with his friends.
His team competed at the U12 Asian Youth Championship for the Irish sport at Hanoi's My Dinh Stadium last month and won.
The older U18 team from Blue Dragon, which has provided shelter for street and disadvantaged kids over the past 13 years, also brought back a cup of their own.
"It’s a fast sport, easy to pick up if you already have any skills of soccer or basketball," said Jim Kiernan, leader of Viet Celts, a popular adult Gaelic football team in Hanoi.
David Cunningham, Blue Dragon’s Irish coach, was very proud of his team.
“It’s a good mix of skills here. These guys are strong, fast and very passionate. When competing, they always work well together,” said Cunningham. “Other teams like Korea and Singapore, they are bigger and stronger but not as fast."
It all started with a fun match two years ago with no specific rules between Cunningham’s youth soccer team and another primary school’s basketball team. “We wanted to try, and we had fun,” the coach said. “Then we welcomed everyone who wanted to try the sport to come and practice with us. The children learned as they go and Blue Dragon team was formed.”
"We don’t care if they win or lose, as long as they know how to play fair," said Cunningham. "People come and leave, but there have always been around 20 kids who are passionate."
Despite a few minor injuries, after two years of regular training, Phu and his teammates are dreaming about playing at elite level.
Phong "Neymar" another player said: “I can do 20 push-ups and run two laps every day. I want to get stronger and be a elite level player.”
Blue Dragon's U12 team competed at the Asian Youth Championship in Hanoi in November. Photo courtesy of Viet Celts
The kids are ambitious and hopeful, but it’s still a long way for them to compete overseas.
“No Blue Dragon kid has a passport -- and we can’t contact the parents directly. I don’t know if we could get the kids to travel,” said Cunningham.
Over the past two years Blue Dragon has been receiving funds from the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Yet because of the unsolved passport problem, the current plan is to stay local and to get more Vietnamese involved in the sport.
Lam, a U18 player, has even more to worry about.
“I’m not confident in my Vietnamese natural build. We are small and it takes a lot to be able to compete in the adult category. I also have to devote time for study and summer work," he said.
Yet, for now the Gaelic fun continues at Blue Dragon. “We hope international teams will continue to visit,” said Cunningham.