Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Putting the American in the North American Finals

The flavour of the North American finals is changing. What was once an annual gathering of Irish immigrants is gradually attracting many more natives. The first North American finals that I attended was 8 years ago here in Boston. The US still held an allure for many young Irish and the Celtic Tiger had still not quite reached adulthood. With the exception of some football teams playing on the fringes of junior level, the vast majority of players and spectators were from the old country. As for the Yanks swinging a hurl - there'd be more hope a Kilkenny man kicking a football. It was a given that an American would never swing a hurl in a competitive game - it was one of those things that you did not even question - or even imagine. The only hurls ever gripped by American hands were the ones sold to tourists as souvenirs. There was not much of an urgent need to attract the locals, and some of us might also have even felt that the games should by right be the preserve of "Irish" Irish. The following year I traveled to San Francisco, the only time I have visited the city and hopefully not the last, San Fran is a great spot. If you have never been there you should go and visit. When we got to the waterfront I could not believe that out there in the bay was Alcatraz Island. I had to shake myself into reality that I was really looking at a place that I had only ever seen in a movie about it as a child.

Back to the finals. San Fran in 2001 was practically all Irish from Ireland, not the "I'm Irish" variety. The Chicago Wolfe Tones won the senior football final and wrested the title from St. Brendans who had won it the previous year in Boston. The Tones or St. Brendans always put out a team that would scare the life out of many's a county team at home, and there was one junior hurling competiton with teams from Boston, Chicago, and San Fran only (nary an accent that was not Irish within shouting distance of those games), and while not that unusual, American accents were a distinct minority at the event in general never mind on the field of play or even assisting on the sidelines. I remember that there was a ladies junior side that went by the name of OC Roisin. The "OC" stood for Orange County in SoCal (Southern California). They seem to like using those kinds of abbreviations down there, "HB" for Huntington Beach, and you all know what LA stands for. Anyway, the ladies from the OC had a distinct look of soccer players about them, but they were fit and eager. "I wish they all could be California.......", I'd better stop there. If I remember correctly, they beat out our own Boston Shamrocks in the Ladies junior final. A week after flying back to Boston from San Fran the planes hit the twin towers and the pentagon. End of story.

Boston hosted the 2008 finals, and things have changed - a lot. Neither the Tones nor Brendans from Chicago made it, and Chicago's football team that did (Padraig Pearse) did not even make the final. The junior hurling winners were from Philadelphia and while I'm not sure whether any of the players were American Born, there were certainly plenty togged out on the line who were. The best game of the finals was the junior B quarter final between the New England Celtics and Charlotte (that place is in North Carolina by the way). The Celtics are 100% American Born players, and except for the coaches and supporters, no Irish accented players have ever featured in the side on the field of play. Charlotte did feature some players from Ireland, but they too have a plentiful American representation in the side. The game went into extra time and the final score was along the lines of 3-22 to 4-15. Not bad if you like up and down the field stuff and plenty of scoring - and the Americans like that kind of thing. To digress, many respectable sports loving Americans feel thatsoccer barely qualifies as a sport since the concept of a 0-0 draw to them after 90 minutes of play leaves them to wonder what the point of even having the game was. Physical, fast, a lot of scoring. Gaelic games have all 3 in abundance, the locals call that kind of thing sport. Charlotte went on to win the junior B title, while the Celtics have moved on to the Junior A level in the Boston division.

There are now Junior B and C grades of hurling, and the vast majority of these players are from the good ol' US of A. It seems that the seeds of hurling are being planted in the United States, and not necessarily by Irish immigrants, but by the Americans themselves. Milwaukee and St. Louis, hardly bastions of Irish immigrants, have two of the largest hurling clubs in the U.S., though they compete in the lower junior divisions. How long before they move up is anybody's guess, but if the interest holds and the game is passed on to kids to learn and hone their skills then it is fair to say the sky is the limit for the sport in this country. Two such teams that featured in the finals this year for the first time are under the umbrella of the Boston North East Division, the Barley House Wolves from Manchester, New Hampshire and the Portland Marauders from Maine. The Wolves are an interesting story. The club was founded three years ago by a group of National Guardsmen who had just completed a 12-month tour of Afghanistan. As an effort to hold the group who had served together, they formed a hurling club since many had the skills of ice hockey or lacrosse, so they felt that they had the basic skills and would all be at the same level for the new sport. Some of the servicemen went back to serve another tour and brought their hurls with them so as not to lose the skills that they had practiced. I had a conversation last year with one of the founding members and he mentioned a few things that make we wonder where we are headed. One was a desire to introduce the game to kids. There are also youth leagues running in New York, Boston, and elsewhere that are coaching hurling to American Born kids. Some of these kids who entered the leagues 8-10 years ago are beginning to join the local clubs and there are more than a few who have the shape of a good footballer.

As the games across North America begin to encompass more and more Americans, both football and hurling, it will be interesting to see where we end up a decade from now. The Men's senior football final in Denver 5 years ago featured a side from San Francisco that had a majority of American Born players. While they did not win, the fact that they made it there was a talking point. There are efforts being made by the divisions of the North American Board to promote the game to the youngsters, but there is also an interest beyond that from the natives in taking up the games. Last week Ireland beat Australia in an International game that is neither Aussie Rules nor Gaelic Football. It was an obvious source of pride and satisfaction to beat the Aussies. Someday will the Irish be trying to beat the Yanks, or the Yanks trying to beat the Irish, in International Gaelic Football - or Hurling - or both?

Monday, September 8, 2008

North American Finals Results

North American Finals Results
Men’s Football
Senior Final: McAnespies (Boston) 2-15 Sean Treacy’s (San Francisco) 1-7
Intermediate Final: Kerry (Boston) 1-13 Galway (Boston) 0-7
Junior A Final: Ulster (San Francisco) 2-9 Young Irelanders (Philadelphia) 1-7
Junior B Final: James Connolly’s (Charlotte) 1-10 Setanta (San Diego) 1-5
Junior C Final: Patriots (Chicago) 2-15 Boston (0-10)
Junior D Final: Austin Celtics Cowboys (1-17) St. Louis 2-5

Senior Final: Limerick (Chicago) 4-14 Na Fianna (San Francisco) 3-13
Junior A Final: Shamrocks (Philadelphia) 3-10 Na Fianna (San Francisco) 2-11
Junior B Final: Milwaukee 3-15 Washington DC Gaels (3-6)
Junior C Final: Indianapolis 5-9 Michael Cusacks (Chicago) 2-11

Ladies Football
Senior Final: Roscommon (Boston) 1-17 Shamrocks (Boston) 1-8
Junior A Final: Washington DC 5-8 Philadelphia 4-10

Senior Final: St. Mary’s (Chicago) 4-4 Eire Og (Boston) 1-5Junior Final: Shamrocks (San Francisco) 5-10 St. Mary’s (Chicago) 1-6

Monday, September 1, 2008

St. Mary's Chicago Defeat Eire Og in Camogie Final

Joe Grealish Gives the Eire Og Players a Pre-Game Pep Talk.
Eire Og 1-5 St. Mary’s (Chicago) 4-4

Eire Og were up against a tough opponent in the senior camogie final as they faced St. Mary’s of Chicago. In spite of a wholehearted effort on the part of the local side, St. Mary’s were that little bit better and got the vital scores to claim the championship. Three goals in the first half proved to end up being the difference between the teams. Eire Og made a good run at it in the second half, but Mary’s held the local side out and ended up deserving winners.

St. Mary’s held the advantage at the end of the first period thanks to three first half goals. Eire Og did well and registered five scores, a goal and four points. The first, a goal, came from Anna Flanagan and put Eire Og into a two-point lead. Colette Gill had opened the scoring with a point for St. Mary’s with a point from a free. The Chicagoans then proceeded to register three goals in a row. Gill, Miriam O’Keefe – who dropped the hurl and handpassed into the net, and Grainne McCrickland each registered a major for Chicago. Eire Og made a couple of switches and then took a turn to dominate. Ciara Johnson pointed three times, twice from long range frees and once from play, and Michelle Walsh added another. At the half it was Mary’s by four points.

In the second half Eire Og had the benefit of a stiff breeze in their favour and for much of the half dropped high balls into the Mary’s penalty area. Marys’ were first to score in the second period, however. McCrickland and Gill (free) each pointed for the Chicago side. Eire Og then applied a lot of pressure to the Chicago goal, but Roisin Callan was sound under the high dropping ball and the St. Mary’s goalkeeper made some good clearances. Johnson registered the first score of the half for Eire Og with a fine point from play, but with less than 10 minutes remaining the Boston girls had it all to do. With time running out on the local side, Eire Og went in search of goal and generated some chances that went awry.

A last minute goal from Miriam O’Keefe put an exclamation point on the win for the Midwestern side, and while it was disappointment from a Boston viewpoint, the visitors from Chicago deserved the win.

Eire Og: N. Daly, D. Brennan, F. Gohery, A. Joyce, M. Keane, N. O’Neill, Caroline Hanley, Ciara Johnston (0-4), J. McCooey, M. Walsh, Anna Flanagan (1-0), Chris Hanley, S. O’Brien. St. Mary’s: R. Callnan, A. Byrne, A. Redmond, N. O’Keefe, C. Murray, L. Mitchell, A. Wall, E. Hennessey, Colette Gill (1-2), E. McQuaid, N. Kerlin, Miriam O’Keefe (2-0), Grainne McCrickland (1-2).

Kerry win Intermediate Title

Kerry 1-13 Galway 0-7

Both Kerry and Galway participated in the Intermediate Football, and both teams made the final on Sunday. Kerry defeated Ulster of San Francisco in the semi-final, and Galway got a bye straight into the final. Kerry avenged their disappointment in the Boston final with a convincing win. Mickey Joe Hynes put in a fantastic goalkeeping performance for Galway, and the margin of Kerry’s victory would have been much more had it not been for Hynes. Hynes pulled off at least 5 point blank saves to keep his side in the hunt for much of the game.

Kerry opened the scoring with a Jer Molloy point. Kerry had the better of the early exchanges and registered a number of wides before Hynes pulled off his first amazing save of the game from Mark O’Sullivan. With O’ Sullivan bearing down on goal, Hynes kept his nerve and blocked the point blank shot. Galway eventually settled down and registered some scores. Tommy Walsh and Peter Nolan got the tribesmen off the mark, but Kerry responded with scores from Richard O’Sullivan, Johnny Moroney, and Mark O’Sullivan. At the break Kerry led by five points to three.

Kerry took over in the second half and registered ten scores to three from Galway. Mark Evans and Mark O’Sullivan combined to great effect and between them accounted for five of Kerry’s scores. Hynes pulled off another of his magnificent saves early in the half, and Ger Barry pointed from the rebound. Barry followed with a point from play, and then O’Sullivan found Evans for another Kerry score. Evans pointed again mid way through the half and Kerry were in the driver’s seat, leading by six points. John Joe O’Neill and Mattie McKenna did well for Galway in trying to turn the tide, but to no avail. Evans and O’Sullivan each pointed again before Richard O’Sullivan found his namesake, Mark, who finally put the ball past Hynes for a Kerry goal. Conor Hurley capped the scoring with a point, and Kerry made amends for last week with a North American championship.

Kerry: D. Diggins, D. Forde, S. Moriarty, J. Barry, D. Fox, M. Godley, J. Moroney, R. O’Sullivan, M. Evans, J. Molloy, P. Devane, M. O’Sullivan, M. Sweeney. Galway: M. Hynes, B. Dalton, S. Gallagher, P. Cummins, JJ O’Neill, A. Murphy, B. Rickerby, T. Walsh, P. Nolan, M. McKenna, B. O’Hora, D. Redmond, T. Schneider.

By Rory O'Donnell

Roscommon Take First Ever North American Trophy

Roscommon 1-17 Boston Shamrocks 1-8

The Roscommon senior ladies added another piece of silverware to this year’s haul by capturing their first North American Championship. Roscommon and the Boston Shamrocks contested the Ladies senior football final. Roscommon entered as Boston champions and the Shamrocks stepped in as the second home team, and both made the final. Roscommon displayed some lovely football over the course of the 60 minutes and fully deserved their win. Coming out of the back line there was almost always a player on the move looking for the ball, and once play moved into the forward line the Roscommon forwards displayed some nice inter-passing. It did not help the Shamrocks cause that stalwart Sinead Walsh had to leave the field mid-way through the first half with what looked like and injury to the ribs. Karen Maloney lit up the scoreboard with some brilliantly taken points for Roscommon, and there were some scenes of great joy as Roscommon Captain, Laura Burns accepted the first North American trophy on behalf of the club.

Roscommon recorded a formidable score of 1-11 in the first half. A Maggie Fox goal after 7 minutes settled the side. Aisling Jennings put the Shamrocks on the board with a point from a free soon afterwards. Roscommon displayed some great shooting, notably Sligo native, Karen Maloney. The Shamrocks struggled to lift the Roscommon siege in the first half and get the ball out of their own half. Roscommon capitalized on their wealth of possession and led at the half by a score of 1-11 to 0-5. Maloney put two wonderful scores over the bar, both from the right side of the field. One was a fantastic long distance strike from play and the other from a sideline ball. The Shamrocks showed some flashes of what they can do, setting up three scores in a row for Ann Doherty, Jennings, and Mary Cullen in the final 10 minutes of the half. Roscommon, however, held a strong advantage at the break, but the Shamrocks would have a breeze in their favour in the second half.

The Shamrocks' Mary Cullen is pursued byRoscommon captain Laura Burns.

The Shamrocks made some inroads into the Roscommon lead early in the second half as they lifted their game. With the backs digging in and scrapping for every ball to deny Roscommon possession, Ann Doherty won the ball on the 65 and ran directly for goal. Doherty pulled the trigger 14 yards out and the ball struck the back of the net; the Shamrocks were back in it. Roscommon kept the pressure on. After Jennings tagged on a point for the Shamrocks, Roscommon responded with three points on the trot. Caroline Benson scored the first, and again, Maloney kicked a sideline over the bar and almost immediately afterwards followed with a great score from play; Roscommon were now back in the ascendancy. The Shamrocks kept up the fight to try and turn the tables. Another goal chance came – and went. Doherty was fouled in the penalty area and Jennings’ placed shot came back off the post. The Shamrocks added a point from a Jennings 21-yard free, but Roscommon finished the game as strong as they started, with three points in a row and few could argue that the Rossies did not deserve their first North American championship.

Shamrocks: M. Harrison, S. Killeen, S. Boylan, C. Greir, J. Branigan, J. Rock, J. Donnelly, S. McHugh, C. McEleaney, S. Walsh, Ann Doherty (1-1), L. Purcell, K. Rohan, Aisling Jennings (0-6), Mary.Cullen (0-1). Roscommon: N. Kavanagh, L. Burns, J. O’Connell, P. Bourke, Kyla McManus (0-1), J. Rogers, Jackie Mulligan (0-1), E. McGirr, I. McNulty, Karen Maloney (0-11), Caroline Benson (0-1), Sharon McGovern (0-2), Maggie Fox (1-1), D. Murphy, F. Claffey. Sub: Saline Reynolds (0-2).
By Rory O'Donnell

Aidan McAnespies Win Second North American Title

Aidan McAnespies 2-15 Sean Treacys 1-7 (San Francisco)

McAnespies won their second North American Championship on the 20th anniversary of the murder of Aidan McAnespie at the Aughnacloy checkpoint in county Tyrone. Their first North American Championship came in 1998, on Aidan’s 10 anniversary. Kevin Barry’s of Philadelphia provided the semi final opposition, and the home side came through a dour enough encounter with a five point win. Kevin Barrys proved to be a tough opponent to break down, and in the second half made a run at McAnespies, scoring five points in a row to come within a point. Steven McGettigan then made the breakthrough and netted to put McAnespies in a comfortable lead. Declan Lally followed with a fine point to secure progression to the next stage.

In the final McAnespies met Sean Treacy’s from San Francisco, who defeated Chicago Parnells in extra time in their semi-final. McAnespies played some good, error free, football in the final and looked comfortable throughout. In spite of conceding a goal late in the first half that brought the visitors level, McAnespies maintained their composure and continued to focus and work hard, and ran out convincing winners in the end.

McAnespies looked comfortable in the first half, and went in at the break with a five point lead. Within 10-15 minutes of the throw-in it looked apparent that the South Boston side had the aces in its deck. The McAnespies back line did a lot of mopping up as Sean Treacy’s lost their way when entering the attacking zone. Christy Lynch had an excellent first half at corner back, as did Danny McBride in the middle of the field. The Strabane man supported the back line well and played the part of link man when McAnespies played the ball out of defence. McAnespies made good use of their posession. The local side went into a three-point lead in the early going, with Darren Ryan and Colm McCrory scoring the three points between them.

Treacys got off the mark after 13 minutes with a Mike McCauley point. There were a couple of lengthy stoppages as a result of some heavy challenges, and once things got going again in earnest, Treacys got themselves into the game. After Declan Lally added another point for McAnespies, Gene Griffin and McCauley again pointed for Treacy’s. The San Francisco side drew level after 26 minutes when Mark Gallagher goaled. It came somewhat against the run of play, and McAnespies got the goal back before half time. McAnespies were the beneficiaries of a somewhat curious decision by the referee who blew for a free out for a pick up after Declan Traynor came off his line and bundled over an attacking player – a let off for the home side. Steven McGettigan and Ryan each pointed, and the Alan Feeney goaled in injury time after being fed by McCrory. McAnespies led by five at half time.

Playing with the breeze and away from the sun in the second half, the Boston side extended their lead to eight points as what appeared to be inevitable came to fruition. McCrory pointed twice from play and once from a free. Shane Glennon, who had entered as a sub in the first half, stemmed the bleeding with a well taken point for the visitors and looked like the San Francisco side’s best attacking option. McCrory’s speed continued to cause problems for the visiting back line in the second half, and the Monaghan man added another point for McAnespies. Danny McBride and Lally added two more points and with 10 minutes left the locals led by 10 points. Treacy’s went looking for a goal - or two - that would be required to pull off a late comeback, and twice Glennon could have netted but shot over the bar. Colm McCrory underlined a great overall performance with a goal at the death. McAnespies win their second North American championship.

Captain Colm McCrory hoists the North American Cup and also won the man of the match award.
Macs: D. Traynor, G. Norton, C. Lynch, D. Donegan, N. Kerr, Alan Feeney (1-0), Danny McBride (0-1), M. Stanbrook, Declan Lally (0-2), C. Galligan, Darren Ryan (0-3), Steven McGettigan (0-1), Colm McCrory (1-8). Sean Treacys: H. Hughes, C. Murphy, B. Molloy, Mark Gallagher (1-0), Stephen Driver (0-1), C. Conneeley, S. McAleer, P. Turnball, R. Kane, Mike McCauley (0-2), Gene Griffin (0-1), B. Nugent, D. Faherty. Sub: Shane Glennon (0-3).
By Rory O'Donnell