Gaelic football’s improbable ascent in Cambodia’s playing fields

Meet Sovann ThidaAva: From Abandoned Baby to Gaelic Football Star in Cambodia

Sovann ThidaAva’s story is one of perseverance and triumph. Abandoned as a baby on the streets of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, ThidaAva was taken in by a local NGO for disadvantaged children, where she was raised. Despite a crowded and chaotic life in care, ThidaAva built strong bonds with her fellow girls. However, she knew little beyond the walls of the organisation until she discovered Gaelic football in 2018.

Founded by Irishmen Conor Wall and Paddy Campbell, Cairde Khmer is a club that quickly began attracting Cambodian players. ThidaAva initially found the rules of Gaelic football confusing, but soon became one of the team’s best and most fearless players. Her tackling is described as “absolutely vicious,” with some opponents asking the referee to protect them from this rampaging 14-year-old.

Soon, Cairde Khmer became predominantly Cambodian in membership, with teams excelling at the Asian Gaelic Games and the South Asian Gaelic Games. Coming runners-up at last year’s Asian Gaelic Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the women’s team caused an upset against a strong Thai side in the semi-final.

Sreypov, who longed to play sports like the boys in her village but was never given the chance, credits Gaelic football with a complete life transformation. Though discouraged as a youngster, she now plays the game with gusto and pride, even marking its impact on her life with her nail art.

For Sovann ThidaAva and the entire Cairde Khmer family, Gaelic football offers the chance to travel the world and have authentic experiences. The sport has broadened their horizons and given them an unparalleled learning experience. Despite a difficult upbringing, ThidaAva’s passion for the game not only made her “less lonely” but also a star in her own right.

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