Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 Senior Hurling Championship Best in Years; McAnespies put Stamp on Senior Football

With the 2011 Boston GAA season in the rearview mirror, and preparations underway for 2012, the year just gone by can be looked on as a successful one in many ways for the GAA in this corner of the nation. Despite obstacles, many that were thrown up unexpectedly, there was plenty to be happy about in Boston. When all was said and done on the field, there were 2 North American championship trophies that made their way back to the Northeast from San Francisco, and Boston took the opportunity to shine by hosting a flawless CYC in August. The level of competition at senior football and hurling was the highest that it has been in several years. Hurricane Irene paid an unwelcome visit to the Northeast at precisely the wrong time and somewhat spoiled what had promised to be a finals weekend to remember.  The board was forced to bring the games forward to finish them all by early Saturday afternoon. The Northeast also saw the first Junior C hurling championship in it’s history as 3 clubs contested for the first title. At youth level several new clubs sprung up to make a total of 9, making the Boston Northeast Division the fastest growing North American region at underage level.

Paul O'Donoghue was one of the stars in Canton in 2011.

The senior football championship took on a new format with the top 6 making the senior championship playoffs. That meant that late in the season 9 of the 11 teams had a chance of making the playoffs. It was clear that all 11 clubs involved had put in a lot of time and effort into fielding top quality teams. The games were highly competitive and of the level of play was impressive. The 6 teams that made it in the end were Aidan McAnespies, Connemara Gaels, Christopher’s, Wolfe Tones, Donegal, and Galway. Galway made their first senior championship semi-final in over 20 years and were unlucky to go down to the Connemara Gaels in the semi-final. It was Aidan McAnespies however, put their stamp on the season. The senior footballers went unbeaten all year. Having claimed the Pat O’Brien Cup in May, McAnespies assembled a squad of players that would go 12-0 for the Boston and NACB senior championships. The team looked unstoppable at times and played a brand of football that made very good teams look very ordinary. The only time the South Boston side looked vulnerable was in the second half of the semi-final against Christopher’s. The game looked over bar the shouting at the break as McAnespies held a seeming unassailable lead. However, Christopher’s stormed back and but for a couple of key saves by goalkeeper, Ciaran Kendrick, McAnespies could have found themselves on the outside looking in.

The final pitted McAnespies against the Connemara Gaels who were celebrating 50 years and hoping to mark the occasion with a senior championship. The Gaels had put in some inconsistent performances but there was no denying the strength of a side that contained several players of intercounty pedigree. Offaly man Brian Connor starred for the Gaels in the middle of the field all season, while Pat McNicholas and Barry Murphy were 2 of the players that formed a talented back line.  McAnespies, however, held the edge throughout the game, and with the Gaels looking like making a second half charge; 2 goals sealed their fate. They came fittingly from corner forwards, and St Mary’s Caherciveen men, Paul O’Donoghue and Sean Cournane. A few of the players who characterized the unselfish nature of the team were Niall Gallen, Sean Hughes, Plunkett Kane, Gareth O’Neill, Mark Little, and Philip Toner.  The Boston representatives worked hard to win the North American Championship in very difficult conditions in San Francisco and showed a lot of patience and character to hold off a stiff challenge from Parnell’s of Chicago in the final. 

Wolfe Tones broke the Donegal-McAnespies hold over the junior A football championship with an impressive win over Donegal in the final. The side contained many veterans of previous campaigns, Kevin Gorham, Joey Farrell, Alo and Marty McGeough, and Mick Sammon led the way for the Blue side of South Boston. The junior B championship also went to McAnespies who defeated Galway in the final. Captained by Eoin McCusker, the side also featured such stalwarts as Eugene McKenna, Ollie Guirke, Peadar Nugent, Nigel Regan, and Stephen McGettigan.

Cillian Murphy and Eoghan Naughton each starred
for their clubs at senior and junior level respectively.
The senior hurling championship was the most exciting in many a year. All four teams made the “playoffs” since there had to be a playoff game between the bottom 2 teams.  In effect it was a quarter final to separate Galway and Tom’s and see who would make the semi-final against Tipperary. It was touch and go all season long. Wexford dominated the first half of the season, and Galway looked out of the picture without a win after 3 games. The Tribesmen were too good to be left out of the picture though, and a draw and 2 wins in the second round saw them force a playoff against arch rivals, Fr. Tom Burke’s. Galway came through that encounter to meet Tipperary in the semi-final. Galway pipped Tipp by 2 points to advance to the final where they met local Brighton rivals, Wexford. The game was tight all the way and had a controversial ending. With the 60 minutes played it looked as if Wexford had done enough with a Tony Murphy point, but Eoin Guinan leveled and Fintan O’Leary put the winner over from a tough angle and distance. Wexford looked like they had one last chance to force extra time as the referee at first looked to motion for a free from a very score-able position, but then called full time. Galway, it must be said, showed great character to stick with it throughout the season, especially after a tough start, to win their first championship since 2001. Captain Cillian Murphy, Andrew Brennan, Noel McCree, Eoin Guinan and Fintan O’Leary were stellar for the westerners. Unfortunately Galway brought an under strength side to San Francisco as, ironically, key home-based players could not travel to the west coast. However, veterans Liam Byrne, John Byrne, James Kinsella, and ultra-veteran, Josie Fahy filled in on the home-based front. Galway made it past Vancouver to make the final, but then ended up in a bit of a mis-match against a very good Na Fianna side.

Junior C Portland Hurling Club made the trip to
San Fran for the NACB Finals.
On the Junior hurling front Wexford were the ultimate victors over Fr. Tom Burke’s in the Boston final. It was a long time coming for the Brighton side who had never won the junior title. The final was never in doubt. Peter Nolan, Jamie Keogh, Peter Ryan, and Eoghan Kavanagh were part of a very strong junior side. The slaneysiders made the coast to coast trip to San Francisco and very nearly got booted from the competition for a 20 minutes late arrival at the grounds for an 8:00am throw in against Toronto. Sense prevailed in the end, and the game was played first thing the following morning. Wexford saw off the Canadian challenge and met locals, Na Fianna, in the final. It was a close run affair as a few of the Wexford players limped through the second half. The Boston side prevailed in the end to add a North American trophy to their Boston championship. Boston also saw the first Junior C Championship take place with teams from 3 New England states competing. Concord New Hampshire, Portland Maine, and Worcester Mass. contested the inaugural trophy, and it was the Barley House Wolves of New Hampshire that won the final, defeating Portland. Both teams traveled to San Francisco for the finals. Portland made an exit in the first round but contested the shield final, narrowly losing out in that final. The BHW made the championship final and came oh so close to lifting the trophy. The Concord men led St. Louis for most of the game, but a late goal turned the tide in favour of the mid-western team. Dennis Trainor, Eddie Clements, Dan Hanna, Rory O’Mahoney, and Darragh Madden starred for the Wolves who have a lot to be proud with their performance on the west coast.

The Ladies of Tir na nOg and the Boston Shamrocks battled it out for the rights to represent Boston at the NACB finals in San Francisco. Tir na nOg swept all competitions, winning the Ladies Senior and Junior championships, and also taking the Orla Benson Cup. Unfortunately for Tir na nOg the trip to San Francisco did not result in a fourth trophy for the club. Mairead Farrell’s from Philadelphia had the Boston ladies fighting an uphill battle for most of the game, and a late three goal salvo was not enough to turn things around in favour of Tir na nOg. In Sinead Bannon and Caroline Nee the club have some home grown talent, while Lisa Brick, Natalia Hyland and Mairead Luttrell amongst others, starred for the Brighton based team. The ladies had to show some innovation given the current situation in Boston and during the year held a very successful 7-a-side blitz featuring players from teams in Philadelphia and New York. A new ladies football team is in the works, the Connaught Rangers, which is hopefully a sign that things are back on the upswing for Ladies football in Boston.

Hurling was to the fore at the CYC
and the youngsters displayed a high skill level.
On the juvenile front there was continued growth in the numbers of players and clubs. With the Canton based youth league and St. Brendan’s being the more established clubs, 7 additional fledgling underage clubs were formed in the region thanks to the trojan work of those involved at club and board level. The Irish Cultural Center also hosted the 2011 CYC in August. Thanks to the efforts of the organizers, the help of the adult clubs, and the co-operation of the clubs involved, the event was run without any major hiccups as thousands of kids participated in the largest underage GAA tournament outside of Ireland.

The Connemara Gaels celebrated 50 years with a banquet in Florian Hall. Joe McDonagh and Declan Meehan were guests of honour. Michael O’Muircheartaigh was guest of Honour at the Irish Pastoral Center’s annual banquet.  There were 6 trophies on display at the Wexford HC and Tir na nOg banquet. The Ladies Junior, Senior, and Orla Benson Cup and the Boston and North American junior hurling trophies as well as the Kieran Sheehan Cup. Sam Maguire also spent a couple of days in Boston as several of the Dublin football team brought the storied trophy to the masses.
2012 will present the challenges, many of which can be anticipated and others not. Hopefully the hard work at underage level will continue and the local teams will continue to grow. At adult level the quality of competition in both hurling and football will be hard to repeat, but clubs are already preparing for what will should be be another successful year.
By Rory O'Donnell

No comments: