First Philly-Area Collegiate Gaelic Sports Tourney Scores Big
Normally, it’s the players on the losing team who look stunned. Ciarán Ó Braonáin had that look in his eyes last Saturday afternoon at Monsignor Bonner—and his team, the newly formed Radnor Saints of Villanova University, had just won the Junior B Gaelic football trophy at Philly’s first-ever collegiate Gaelic sports tournament, sponsored by St. Joseph’s University Gaelic Football Club.
‘Nova’s opponents were more experienced by far. “We had our first practice in November, but then we had the bad winter, so we didn’t really get going until February,” Ó Braonáin said. “But we’re off to a good start. I couldn’t be happier.”
Villanova was just one of many college and university teams from throughout the Northeast that descended upon Bonner’s artificial turf for the day of football and hurling. The teams were purposely small—seven a side. That enabled two games to be played on the Bonner field at the same time. The host Hawks kept things moving with revolving door precision. One game would no sooner end, than the next game would start. Sometimes players from the previous game were jogging off the field even as the referee was blowing the starting whistle for the next game.
Most of the players were American, but not all were Irish-American, and a few of the teams were co-ed. And every player on every team fought as fiercely as if they were slugging it out in the All-Ireland Championship Finals.
All of which was gratifying to David Cosgrove, who coached the hurling club from Kean University in North New Jersey. Kean undergrad Dave Lewis founded the club. Cosgrove is also founder of the Hoboken Guards hurling team, and chairman of the New York Gaelic Athletic Association hurling division.
“It’s great to see the game growing so fast in the Northeast,” Cosgrove said. “We’re getting the word out. It’s just like lacrosse exploded 30 years ago. This is what’s happening here.”
Iona College players assisted the Kean team in the tournament. Cosgrove says a joint Kean/Iona team will take the field in the 2014 NCGAA Championships May 24-25 in Gaelic Park, Riverdale, N.Y. Fifteen other collegiate GAA clubs from around the U.S. will take part.
The footballers from St. Joe’s came away without a trophy, but they still notched up the day as a big win, both for their club and for collegiate Gaelic athletics nationwide.
“It went very well,” said the Hawks’ Brian Mahoney. “Boston College was the biggest question mark, whether they would make it, but they traveled the farthest and they brought the most people. We took an important step at St. Joe’s to get cleared to be a club. Now when other teams approach their administrations, they can say, ‘This is how St. Joe’s did it.’ It just feels like it’s viable.”
Competition at the college and university level is vital to the future of Gaelic athletics in the United States. There are vibrant youth leagues, up to the Under-18s, but after that there’s nothing until the adult leagues.
“When you see something like this,” Mahoney said, “you know it’s working. There’s a gap being filled.”