Saturday, November 23, 2013

Colleges GAA Taking Hold in the Northeast

November 9, 2013 saw a significant step in the development of Gaelic Games at college level in the Northeast.  The Irish American Home Society in Glastonbury, Ct., home to the Hartford GAA Club, was the scene for the first ever Northeast Colleges GAA Tournament.  Teams from colleges in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut competed in both Hurling and Football competitions for the title of Northeast champions. 

St. Joe's and King's College Battled it out in Hartford.
There had been activity in colleges with kids who had come through underage programs forming teams.  St. Joe's in Pennsylvania and Boston College had played each other in challenge games, and New York had sent an amalgamated college team to compete in the British University's each year.  In September of this year the Northeast Collegiate GAA Board was formed to provide some structure around the organization of Gaelic Games at the third level. 

The Fall Tournament featured a total of 12 teams.  Four hurling, UConn, NY Colleges, as well as the Hartford GAA Club and Worcester Hurling Club.  The tournament saw Worcester pull off a last minute win over UConn in the final to win the first ever Northeast Colleges Hurling Trophy.  Football saw 8 teams compete.  BC, Worcester, (Ma.); St. Joe's, Kings College (Pa.); Fordham, Iona, Manhattan College, (NY); and Hartford (Ct.).  The teams were drawn in 2 groups and the eventual winners were Iona, who proved to be strong all the way through the tourney.  There were some great games between BC and St. Joe's as well as Kings College and St. Joe's as rivalries start to develop.  The New York GAA Board sponsored the football trophy, while sponsorship for the Hurling trophy came from the Boston Northeast Board. 

Joy for UConn Hurlers vs NY Colleges.
Where to from here?  At the end of March, St. Joe's will be hosting a Northeast tournament.  St. Joe's are the first college in the United States to obtain club status for their GAA club.  Memorial Day weekend sees the National Collegiate Tournament come to the Northeast and it will be played at Randall's Island in New York.  College Teams from all over the United States will be traveling to participate. 

Chairman of the Northeast Colleges Board, and New York Games Development Officer, Simon Gillespie is hopeful that the kids who are forming and organizing these college clubs will develop the skills to take with them to adult clubs after they graduate.  The board is made up of the college kids, and with involvement coming from within it is hoped that there will be something sustainable in the works.  Eamon Gormley, who is based on the west coast saw the importance of developing games in third level institutions to provide continuation for kids who come through underage programs, and allow them to bridge the gap between playing gaelic games at underage and adult levels.  College teams were formed on the west coast several years ago, and now with development in the opposite corner of the country and the midwest, the dots are beginning to connect.   

The National Colleges Tournament is both a challenge and a huge opportunity for the Northeast Colleges.  As Simon Gillespie said, the weekend in November went well but there was also a lot from it that can be learned.  In the United States, March Madness basketball, all kinds of bowls in (American) Football, and NCAA Championship Hockey form the big dates in the college sporting calendars.  Colleges GAA has a long way to go to rival these events, however, with all of the work going into the organization of gaelic games at third level, Memorial Day weekend is sure to continue to become a bigger and bigger day for colleges GAA.

By Rory O'Donnell
Photos by Karen O'Connor, Moher Rose photography,

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