Last Summer of Kicks and Sticks at Cardinal Dougherty

Irish football is clearly a full-contact sport. (Photo by Gwyneth MacArthur)

Irish football is clearly a full-contact sport. Click on the photo to see the full slideshow. (Photo by Gwyneth MacArthur)

It’s the last season of Philly Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) football and hurling at Cardinal Dougherty High School, now that the venerable Olney institution is closing its doors.

(It was once the largest Catholic High School in the world, with more than 6,000 students, but has fallen victim to falling enrollments. The Archdiocese is shutting it down in June.)

Next summer, the hurling and Irish football are set to move to a new facility at Sanatoga and Longview Roads in the Upper Montco town of Limerick.

It’s a bittersweet moment for those who have played, coached or cheered along the sidelines at Dougherty over the last nine or 10 years. “They were pretty good facilities,” says Tom Higgins, a longtime Philly-area GAA player and coach, although he adds that Dougherty was somehow never as attractive to fans as the previous field at Leeds Junior High in Germantown were. “We had great crowds there,” he says. “That was just a super setup. The second we went to Dougherty, the crowd dropped off.”

The GAA has broken ground at the site in Limerick and is in the process of trying to raise $250,000—to be matched by the GAA in Ireland. “I believe it’s going to be ready for next year,” Higgins says.

For now, though, all of the adult games and a few of the youth games will play out the 2010 season on the field at Dougherty. “We had a talk with the priest there, and we knew our lease was good,” Higgins says—though the arrangements will be a little less convenient. “After the end of June, we won’t be able to use the dressing rooms. Through July and August, we won’t be able to use any dressing or shower facilities there.”

And so the season will end. But … there’s still a lot of hurling and football to be played. Games are scheduled every Sunday in June and July, and three Sundays in August.

If you’ve never taken in the fast-paced, full-contact sports of your forebears, you simply must head out to Dougherty. (You might rub shoulders with the Korean athletes who occasionally stop by to watch hurling or Irish football after their soccer game is over on an adjoining field. They clearly know a great sport when they see it.)

In fact, the games have already gotten off to a head start. We dispatched our intrepid photographer Gwyneth MacArthur to Cardinal Dougherty last Sunday to take in a cluster of games. She took more than 50 action-packed shots. Want to see what you’re missing? Click on the photo at upper right.

[googleMap width=”600″ height=”600″]6301 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19120[/googleMap]

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