The Super 11s hurling extravaganza at Fenway Park has to go down as having exceeded all expectations. The crowd of 28,000 were on their feet cheering Galway’s winning score by the time the game was reaching its climax. The game itself had plenty of everything, - spectacular goalkeeping, skill and action, and a grandstand finish. It was intensely contested and even had a scrap thrown in for good measure. Generally the day left people with a good feeling, and signs are that organizers and spectators alike are looking forward to the next one. Whole thing left me with the undeniable message that with the right support and exposure, the GAA in the United States has an unprecedented opportunity to break out of the traditional support base and attract participation and support among a whole new audience.
Youngsters from the local underage teams welcomed the players on to the field. (Courtesy Sportsfile).
|Some of the local youngsters got to play a half time game in front to the 28,000 who attended the game.|
Yes, the players and GPA officials get a trip out of it, the GPA has attracted big sponsors with big money, and no, it is not proper hurling (my initial impression of the manner in which the game was playing out was that it resembled lacrosse with hurls). However, what cannot be denied is that hurling (albeit in this short field format) received unprecedented exposure in New England and the United States with last weekend’s events. When you marry that with the fact that hurling is being taken up by Americans in ever increasing numbers all across the country, and that there is a hunger for a competitive sporting outlet for all ages and abilities, a confluence of factors might just mean that the time is ripe to put some serious resources into promoting GAA games over here.
There never has been any consistent attempt to do that. An All-Ireland final 60 years ago, and annual NY Connacht championship game, or an All-Star trip here or there, is not going to get the job done in that regard, and nor has it thus far. The GPA may have the right ingredients here. A stadium close to the hearts of the locals, with some big time promo on sports channels, and sponsorship, will generate interest among new followers. Which brings me to a big point.
The raison d’etre of the GPA is to improve the lot of county players, however, there are plenty of reasons to involve the local GAA communities abroad in such events going forward. There are people all over the planet doing the grunt work on the ground to build up these games. For them, an event like the one we saw at Fenway Park is a godsend in spreading that gospel. It is akin to Moses coming down from the mountain. These folks operate within the infrastructure that is already in place to bring in new participants and supporters, and have the ready made expertise and knowledge to do that. This side of the Atlantic there is massive competition from other sports, and it is a teak tough challenge to attract people from outside of the traditional audience to the games in order to develop a lasting, grass roots following beyond the circle of emigrant and first generation Irish. Just as at home, busy people volunteer their time to coach children, organize clubs and competitions, and raise funds to promote and play the games. By attracting this new audience, Super 11s hurling represents an unprecedented opportunity for the local GAA to break the mold and expand the supports and participant base. For the GPA, it is an opportunity to build a solid, dedicated base of support that will lead to increased opportunity for future sponsorship and support for the top tier players.
The local GAA was not left out in the cold on this by any means, and managed to get some exposure from this year’s event. The opportunity to spread awareness was not lost. The day before Galway and Dublin players did some coaching for underage kids and held an open training at the Irish Cultural Center. The youth leagues were well represented. Kids in full gear greeted players as they entered the field and played a half time exhibition. The captains of the winning adult clubs were recognized during the interval and an information booth was in place so people could learn about the local organization and get to swing a stick or hold a ball. For many in Fenway park, it was news that games were organized and played at underage and adult level in the region. This event provided an incredible opportunity to spread that news.
Bottom line. If GAA games in the United States were to get this kind of attention on an annual basis, the potential to grow the games within the already existing and developing framework is huge. If the GPA and Super 11s hurling is the way to do it, all the better. An annual game, or even a 4 team tournament over a weekend or two weekends, played in 2 or 3 different major stadiums could expand from local to national attention. County teams are the way to go. Galway v Dublin in Fenway, Cork v Tipp in Yankee Stadium, imagine the possibilities….. someday, the USA v Ireland?