Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 - The Year of the Gaels, Triumph of Tipp, and Connacht Ladies Repeat

Boston Northeast 2013 Season

By Rory O'Donnell - PRO

The first big event of the 2013 season was the AGM at the Irish Cultural Centre in February.  With the frigid weather belying the heat that would come in late June and July, the 2013 board was appointed by the body of delegates present.  At that time of year, with temperatures around the freezing mark and the playing fields lying fallow, it is difficult to picture the scenes that await just a few months ahead.  Overcoats are put away in favor of tee shirts and shorts as temperatures rise to much more agreeable levels, and the quiet of a February Sunday lies in stark contrast to the spectacle of the Irish games taking place on the fields on a late Spring or Summer Sabbath.

One of my favourite photos from 2013
 Fr. Tom's Shane Howley in full flight.
There were 12 competitions run over the course of the season.  There were 3 cup competitions and 9 championships.  Changes to the format of the football competitions were implemented as a result of various suggestions that were made at the AGM.  The senior football championship was reduced to 8 teams, while the junior competitions were divided into 3 groups.  The junior A championship was divided into A1 and A2 sections and the junior B football was reduced to 5 teams.  Unfortunately the New England Celtics were unable to field for the junior B competition; hopefully the club will be back to compete again in 2014.  With the addition of Hartford, Ct. to the junior C hurling competition, the sport is now present in 4 of the 6 New England states with plans afoot for a team in Vermont - that would leave just Rhode Island without a hurling club.  There was also a new team made up of players from the Irish Sports Youth League added to the Ladies junior football competition. 

The Wolfe Tones and Connemara Gaels were the first Boston clubs in action as both traveled to New York to take part in the John Joe Cassidy 7-a side.  The Tones were defending champions, the first non-New York club to win the tournament in 2012.  Needless to say, New Yorkers were determined to take the cup off the Boston upstarts.  The Gaels did not fare well enough to make it out of their group. however, the Tones made it to the final and lost out by a point to a very strong Cork of New York. 

Cathal McHugh and Eoin Delmer in
Blues v Macs Action.
April 17 saw the opening day of the Pat O'Brien Cup in football at the ICC in Canton.  A back door round was introduced this year to the competition to give teams at least two runs out before the championships would begin in May.  Aidan McAnespies were eventual champions, winning handsomely against Wolfe Tones in the final.  The hurlers got their year on the field off to a start with the Sheehan Cup.  Tipperary defeated Fr. Tom Burke's in the final to make it back to back cup wins having won in 2012.  For the ladies footballers, the Boston Shamrocks captured the Orla Benson Cup with a fine performance over Connacht Ladies in the final.

The Championships kicked off in May.  Senior Football was up for grabs all season.  With the shortened field of clubs, everyone was in with a shout late in July.  In the end, the 6 who made it to the playoffs were Christopher's, Shannon Blues, Aidan McAnespies, Connemara Gaels, Kerry, and Wolfe Tones.  Galway and Donegal were the 2 left on the outside looking in despite some gallant displays over the summer. 

Hartford made a good run this year, but McAnespies made
the Junior B Final.
In the quarter finals the Gaels met Kerry and Aidan McAnespies met Wolfe Tones.  The Tones could not break their playoff duck and lost by the narrowest of margins to their arch rivals having had several chances to win the game.  The Gaels dispatched Kerry with room to spare in their game.  The semi finals saw Shannon Blues and Aidan McAnespies play a classic game of football.  It was the type of game that leaves spectators wanting more, and makes one wonder how, after a century of existence on this side of the pond, that Gaelic Football is still a relatively unknown sport in the United States.  The level of skill, excitement, and tension that the game can generate is second to none.  It was clear that neither side wanted to come out on the wrong end of the result, and neither did - on Sunday at least.  The game ended in a draw after extra time.  The teams did it again the following Tuesday, and McAnespies had the gas in the tank to hold off a late Blues comeback and advance to the final.  It turned out to be the Gaels who made the final to meet the Macs after defeating Christopher's with some room to spare.

Another one that I liked from 2013 - Shamrocks Captain Edel McGovern with the Orla Benson Cup making the post game speech.
The talk on the Sunday evening of the semi-finals was that the final had been played already, the Connemara Gaels were not given much of a chance against what was a strong McAnespies team that looked to be gelling at precisely the right time of year.    With a starting 13 that featured 7 home based players, and bench filled with juniors, it was hard to see how the Gaels could come out on top.  The old saying that the games are played for a reason proved to be true as the Gaels won a famous victory with a performance that contained all of the self-belief a team could possibly have, and left McAnespies somewhat at a loss to figure out what happened when the final whistle sounded.  It was the first senior victory for the club since 2001 and celebrations in JJs on Dot Ave. continued for almost a full week. 

Christopher's Faithful looking confident of a result.
In senior hurling it was Tipperary who proved to be top dog all season.  With a strong squad of players from back to front, Tipp topped the table getting the key wins in the round robin stages of the championship, while Galway and Wexford met in an all Brighton semi-final game, which was also a repeat of the 2012 final.  Fr. Tom Burke's had done enough to keep themselves in it until the late stages and worked themselves into playoff with Wexford to Wednesday before the semi-final to see who would meet Galway.  It turned out to be Wexford who came through to meet the old rivals.  This time Galway got revenge on their neighbors with a 3 point win that was a little more comfortable then the score line suggested.  In the final game Tipperary captured their first Boston championship in 3 years as they pulled away from their opponents in the second half.  With 3 players stepping up from the junior team, Tipperary showed their resolve in the second half with a determined display and proved to be deserved winners. 

For the second year in a row, Connacht Ladies dominated the Ladies senior football competition with some emphatic displays.  Having made the final, a Connacht win was on the cards as Amy Ring, Jane Ward, Joanne O'Connell and Co. were on form all summer.  There were some spirited displays from the Shamrocks and Tír na nÓg over the season, but heading into the final the newest team on the scene in Boston were hot favorites.  The Shamrocks made it to the last Sunday in August, and battled hard in the final, but it was never close with the westerners running out 19 point winners.

Local born Conor Fitzgerald in action for the Shannon Blues
in their Junior A semi-final.
The revamped junior football competitions proved to be a major success.  Each section was more competitive than in previous years, and teams had more to play for late in the season.  Cork, Mayo, and Armagh-Notre Dame joined Wolfe Tones, Aidan McAnespies and Donegal in the A1 division, while the A2 division was composed of the other 5 senior clubs' second teams.  The junior A championship went to Wolfe Tones in convincing fashion.  The South Boston based side avenged the disappointment of last years defeat to Donegal in the final with a 9 point win over their arch rivals with a relentless display.  Of the former senior teams, Cork were the only side to make the semi-finals.  Hopes were high in the rebel camp, but the southerners lost out to the eventual champions.  The Shannon Blues won the A2 division, beating Connemara Gaels in the final, and qualified for the Junior A semi-final.  With a team that featured 5 American Born players, the Blues lost out to Donegal in their Junior A championship semi-final after a spirited display.  Donegal were crowned Junior B football champions as they came back from the dead with two late goals to force extra time, and then defeat a stunned Aidan McAnespies in the extra period.

Junior A hurling saw Wexford defeat Tipperary by 5 points in a closely contested final.  It was all square coming into the final stretch, and Wexford rattled the net twice in the late stages to set themselves up for the win.  There was much excitement at junior C level where Worcester won their first championship with a dramatic win over PortlandPortland peppered the Worcester goal late in the game, but their search for a game tying goal proved fruitless as Worcester held out.  The Barley House Wolves entered the NACB junior B hurling championship, but with no other clubs at that level in the Northeast, preparation for the final in Cleveland was a challenge for them.  Tír na nÓg won the Ladies junior football championship with a 10 point win over the Boston Shamrocks in the final.  The ladies junior competition saw the addition of a fourth team made up of girls coming through the Irish Sports Youth League.  Hopefully this will provide an avenue for graduates of the underage program to continue to play and develop after minor level.

Wexford Junior Hurlers stretch under the watchful eye of James Kehoe before a big game versus Tom's.
The competition at the ICC is probably the best live Gaelic football and hurling that you will see in North America.  Clubs continue to make tremendous efforts to keep the show on the road.  Some clubs have adopted scholarship programs for players coming through the underage ranks, Shannon Blues and Cork are examples of that.  Another interesting observation from the 2013 season was that the winners of the men's senior football and hurling and football championships called up several players from the junior ranks for the late stages of the season due to sanction players returning to Ireland, and these players helped deliver the championships.  Perhaps it is time to think about changes to the current rules governing player registration that could help ease the pressure on some clubs to stay competitive, and to bring more of a reward for recruiting and retaining home based talent. 

Looking ahead, 2014 is a big year for the Boston Northeast division.  There is much work to do to prepare for the North American Board Finals, and the visit of the All-Stars in October.  The main field underwent a resurfacing, sponsorship for a new electronic scoreboard is in the pipeline, and plans were well underway to organize the logistics for the finals Labor Day weekend.  The Boston Northeast Board would like to congratulate the 2013 winners and thank the clubs for their continued efforts in making for competitive and exciting competition at all levels of play.  We look forward to meeting the challenges ahead next season. 

By Rory O'Donnell

Competition Finals Scores:
Pat O'Brien Cup Final:  Aidan McAnespies 3-13 Wolfe Tones 1-6
Sheehan Cup Final:  Tipperary 5-20 Fr. Tom Burke's 0-9
Orla Benson Cup Final:  Boston Shamrocks 3-6 Connacht Ladies 0-8
Senior Football Championship Final:  Connemara Gaels 2-9 Aidan McAnespies 0-10
Senior Hurling Final:  Tipperary 2-19 Galway 3-13
Ladies Senior Football Final:  Connacht Ladies 4-14 Boston Shamrocks 0-7
Junior A Football Final:  Wolfe Tones 2-13 Donegal 2-4
Junior A2 Football Final:  Shannon Blues 3-7 Connemara Gaels 1-9
Junior A Hurling Final:  Wexford 3-11 Tipperary 1-12
Ladies Junior Football Final:  Tír na nÓg 3-4 Boston Shamrocks 0-3
Junior B Football Final:  Donegal 3-14 Aidan McAnespies 1-14

Junior C Hurling Final:  Worcester 2-7 Portland 2-4

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