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Coaching Gaelic football team

STEPPING into the home of Ronan McGuinness is like stepping into a warm and bustling place filled with Gaelic football trophies. His wife Halle from the Philippines is cooking lunch and his two daughters are playing with toys and running from room to room.

On the wall hangs their wedding photo and a painting of the farm in Ireland where McGuinness grew up, the hamlet of Loughshinny near Dublin. And of course, there's memorabilia of his years of Gaelic football in Asia. He helped promote the game in Asia when he arrived in Taiwan 15 years ago.

In Suzhou, he organized the club and the men's and women's teams in 2008. He is the men's coach and goal-keeper. He is one of the founders of the Gaelic Football Club in Shanghai.

In Suzhou, the family just moved into a new apartment two week ago and amazingly, everything is in perfect order.

"Home is where you rest your head," says 37-year-old McGuinness, who has been living in Suzhou for five years.

Later in the day the family plans to head to a high-end hotel in Suzhou to spend the night, the top prize in a lucky draw.

The Irishman is operations manager at Concentric Pumps (Suzhou) Co Ltd, a Swedish company that manufactures and supplies water, oil and fuel pumps for diesel engines. It's about 15 minutes' drive from McGuinness's home to the company in the Suzhou Industrial Park. "It seems that everyone asks me why I never use GPS, and the fact is that I don't need it," he says.

But he is wary of big trucks, which he considers dangerous, since many drivers don't obey traffic rules.

McGuinness, who speaks Chinese, has been around China for a long time. He came to Asia 15 years ago when the Irish economy was failing. He worked in Jintan, Kunshan and Nantong, all in Jiangsu Province.

"Suzhou's environment is good because it has a lot of greenery and expatriates have many things to do," he says.

One of his pastimes is bicycling around picturesque Jinji Lake, which is near his residential community. He has a view of the lake from his home. Appreciating the lake is a good way to relieve stress, he says.

McGuinness finds some popular tourist attractions, such as Pingjiang Road, are too crowded and he much prefers large open spaces.

When he first entered Concentric Pumps, he worked 60 to 70 hours a week, but now he can slow down a bit.

To cope with summer power shortages, companies in the industrial park stagger their operating days.

Many people here live to work, but in Europe, people work to live, he says.

The Irish community in Suzhou is very small, with less than 20 people, and McGuinness is considered one of its leaders.

"I guess that's because of the Gaelic football teams," he says with a grin.

McGuinness has been involved in Gaelic football all his life.

He describes it as a blend of basketball and football.

In addition to Ireland, the Suzhou players come from Australia, Canada, China, Germany, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Russia, Spain and the United States. His wife plays on the women's team.

Now the teams are preparing for the annual Asian Gaelic football tournament in October in Seoul, South Korea. More than 800 players from around Asia will participate. They train at international schools.

Last year in Hong Kong, McGuinness' Suzhou Eire Og team was narrowly defeated by the Beijing team in overtime - just one point in the men's bowl final.

"This time, we hope we can go further," he says.

There are now six Gaelic football clubs in China.

Speaking of his hometown Loughshinny, a hamlet of around 600 residents, he says with a bit of regret "we know most of the people in Loughshinny, but now here in Suzhou, we don't know everybody, even those living in the same building."

In free time, he takes his familyto Taihu Lake and SuzhouAmusement Land.

Ronan McGuinness

Nationality: Irish


? Self-description: Easy-going but a really stressed out guy.

? Impression of Suzhou: For a big populated city, it is quite small.

? How to improve Suzhou: Traffic law needs to be implemented.

? Strangest sight: Driving in Suzhou, I saw workers changing a light bulb on a street light. Unfortunately their ladder was too short so two guys lifted the bottom of the ladder onto their shoulders and one guy climbed up the ladder ... not much health and safety involved.

? Worst or funniest experience: Funniest and worst was going to hospital late at night with a broken hand and when the doctor was looking at the X-ray he couldn't tell if it was broken. So he called someone on his mobile phone (who didn't see the X-ray) and was on the phone for two minutes without talking. Then he told me I needed an operation ... Needless to say, I went to Shanghai the next day and didn't need the operation.

? Motto for life: Home is where you rest your head.

Q: Favorite place?

A: Jinji Lake.

Q: Favorite dish?

A: Mapo tofu (a typical Sichuan dish braised with slightly numbing Sichuan pepper, chili, fermented black beans and minced meat).


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