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A Soccer Kid’s Dream: CFC Comes to Philly

Chris Heron and Seamus Cummins

Chris Heron and Seamus Cummins

They’re one of the roughest, toughest, hardest-hitting soccer teams on the face of the earth. Founded in Glasgow in 1887, and formed from the local Irish immigration population and native Glaswegians, they’re 45-time winners of the Scottish League Championship. They have a rabid following throughout the world, including more than a few here in Philadelphia

Recognized the world over by their distinctive four-leaf clover logo, they’re the Celtic Football Club (CFC). And several of their coaches are coming to Upper Moreland this summer for what is likely to be one of the most popular youth soccer camps ever.

Actually, it’s not the coaches of the adult team who are coming. That might be a little intense for 8- to 14-year-olds. Celtic (they pronounce it “sell-tick,” not “kell-tick”) has an academy for young players, some starting at 5. It’s those coaches who will hold sway over the Upper Moreland Soccer Club camp the week of August 4-8.

Celtic’s interest in a local team is a rare honor. The club has partnered with only five other U.S. youth soccer clubs. “We would be their sixth,” says coach Seamus Cummins. “They don’t choose just anybody. They look for the right fit. We were a good match for them, and vice versa. We’re excited to be number six.”

It didn’t hurt that there are two extremely devoted CFC fan clubs in Philadelphia—the Second Street Plough Bhoys (“The Bhoys” is an old team nickname) and the Philadelphia Celtic Supporters. Celtic coaches realized that fact all too well last year, when The National Soccer Coaches Association of America hosted its meeting in Philadelphia. Willie McNab, CFC’s International Celtic Soccer Academy manager, spoke at the annual meeting, Cummins says.

“We have very involved CFC supporters in Philadelphia,” Seamus says, “and Willie took notice. Celtic had been looking to partner with a club in the Philadelphia area. I passed that information on to Chris (Heron), who’s on our board of directors.”

The Upper Moreland club’s board was enthusiastic. Heron contacted McNab, and the deal was done.

cfclogoHeron expects CFC’s coaches to strongly reinforce to the basics, and to keep the kids on their toes.

“They’re going to do a lot of quick drills to keep them engaged,” he says. “There’ll be a lot of ball touch.”

Most soccer kids know exactly who Celtic Football Club is, and Heron expects keeping the kids engaged will be no problem at all. “Kids are always wearing Celtic soccer jerseys.”

CFC is such a draw, Cummins adds, that he’s already heard from one soccer parent in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, who’s seriously considering driving his kid up to Montgomery County for the week. “That’s a 10- to 12-hour drive,” he laughs.

That’s probably a sign of the dad’s interest as much as the kid’s, Cummins says. In fact, Cummins is already hearing from adults who are just desperate to come and watch.

Cummins and Heron understand the attraction. They’re both devout Celtic fans, and Cummins for a personal reason.

“There’s a bond that the Irish have with this team,” Cummins says. “The reason I support Celtic is that my grandparents came from Ireland. They supported Celtic, and I support Celtic.”

And it’s a pretty safe bet that by the end of that week in August, Irish or not, most of the kids who attend the camp will support Celtic—if they don’t already.

Cummins and Heron aren’t sure how many of those kids are likely to register, but Upper Moreland can accommodate a large number, with two separate playing facilities available throughout the week. The number of coaches who will fly over from Glasgow will depend on the number of kids who register. Celtic’s coaches prefer a 1 to 20 ratio.

Those coaches are expecting a lot of enthusiasm. Soccer is one of the fastest growing youth sports in America.

And now, the world’s eyes are riveted on the World Cup in Brazil. Cummins says. “It’s the perfect time to promote soccer.”

The CFC camp is open to boys and girls in the 8 to 14 age range. Registration for UMSC families will be only $150. For non-UMSC members, registration will be $175. The camp will be held at either (or both) Pileggi Park or at the Middle School complex. Details are being finalized.


Ireland Vs. Costa Rica: World Class Soccer at PPL Park

The Delco Gaels proudly hold the tricolor on the field before the match.

The Delco Gaels proudly hold the tricolor on the field before the match.

By Brian Mengini

Last Saturday, June 6,  was a beautiful night for soccer at PPL Park, located along Chester’s waterfront- a perfect night to watch the Republic of Ireland take on the national team of Cost Rica in a friendly match leading up to the World Cup, which started this week. (Ireland will not be competing, but Costa Rica will go up against Uruguay tomorrow.)

The parking lot was full of diehard fans from both sides. The Costa Rica fans had tents and sounds systems set up in the lot and danced and cheered while the Irish fans had a bagpiper! Inside the stadium, color said it all. The green Irish shirts were well outnumbered by the red shirts of the Cost Rican fan base! The Delaware County Gaels, the largest youth GAA organization in the area, escorted the Irish onto the field and took part in the flag-bearing ceremonies at the opening of the match.

While the Irish team did score first, the Costa Rican team dominated the first half. he second half proved to be more dominated by the Irish, despite the Costa Rican team scoring on a penalty kick.
The match ended in a 1-1 tie but was a very lively game for both halves.
The fans of the Costa Rican team seemed to have been just as spirited and entertaining as the game itself. Between throwing beer and drinks onto the field and screaming and cursing at officials, their passion for the sport and their team was clear and culminated at the end of the match with one of their diehards running on the field waving his team shirt as a rally towel, only to be tackled to the ground by a member of security and consequently handcuffed and taken away.

Clearly, they love their sports as much as we do!

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First Philly-Area Collegiate Gaelic Sports Tourney Scores Big

Slugging it out at Bonner

Slugging it out at Bonner

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.”

Hawks take charge

Hawks Gaelic Footballers Sink Their Talons into Boston College

(Photos by Gwyneth MacArthur)

(Photos by Gwyneth MacArthur)

Until recently, they seemed to be the Philadelphia-area Gaelic football club nobody had heard of. Except, possibly, for some local Gaelic footballers.

In any case, the St. Joe Hawks made a great impression on a crowd of Gaelic Athletic Association fans in a special game at Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote, Montgomery County. They notched a tight victory over a team from Boston College, 5-12 to 5-8.

With the victory, St. Joe’s earned the Daniel Sweeney Cup, honoring the Philadelphia firefighter of that name who died in the line of duty in April, 2012.

(Gaelic football explainer here, including scoring.)

The Hawk will never die.

The game was the centerpiece of a day dedicated to raising local awareness of Gaelic sports, sponsored by the Glenside Gaelic Club. Glenside is building a youth program, and showing early signs of success. Some of the kids showed their stuff at the half.

Our roving photographer Gwyneth MacArthur was there to record all the action. Check out her photo essay.

The Hawks in action

St. Joe Squares Off Against B.C. in a Saturday Gaelic Football Match

The gang from Glenside

The gang from Glenside

Gaelic athletics are well-established in the Philadelphia area and, at least among the fans who follow the local hurling and Gaelic football teams, everyone knows who plays these freewheeling, uniquely Irish games.

Brendan Gallagher of the Glenside Gaelic Club thought he knew all the teams.

Turned out he didn’t. The Hawks of St. Joe’s fields a Gaelic football team, and you’ll get to see them in action in a game against a team from Boston College Saturday at 3 p.m. at Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote, Montgomery County.

The team at St. Joe’s, Gallagher said, had already been planning a small exhibition game, “but it was going to be a much smaller event.”

The creative geniuses at the nascent Glenside club had a better idea.

“We saw it as an event of much larger significance,” Gallagher explained. “They saw it as a huge step for their club. I saw it as something bigger. I saw it as a huge step for Gaelic sports in the region.

“Ciaran Porter is the local GAA development officer and a paid employee of the GAA, and his job is to develop Gaelic sports in this region. He was the main force between us getting this event up and running. He has been holding development meetings, and asking people to come from different clubs. It was at one of those meetings at St. Joe’s that I met these young guys. I understood the significance.”

Glenside saw the game as an opportunity to bring out all the GAA fans—plus folks who have never witnessed a Gaelic athletic game of any kind. So the Glenside club is sponsoring the event, and it will now be a much bigger deal.

“At halftime, we’ll have a seven-a-side tiny tots game,” Gallagher said. “Were hoping to line up kids from the Delco Gaels to play against our kids. If not, we will have an intramural game. We see that as a marketing tool for ourselves.”

Afterward, from 6 to 8 at the Knights of Columbus Hall on nearby Limekiln Pike, the Glenside club will serve food and drink. Everyone is invited. It’s five bucks to get in. For newbies and their parents, the Glenside club will explain the basics of the game—and take the opportunity to recruit, of course.

In the meantime, Gallagher is gratified to learn of the Hawks club, and sees it as a positive sign for the growth and development of GAA sports here in Philly, and throughout the United States.

“This is their third year,” Gallagher said. “Ultimately, just like lacrosse and rugby, we’d like the games played at local universities, so students could be enticed to play into their 20s.”


On to the North American Finals!

Up in the air

Up in the air

It might be the first time I’ve heard anyone so excited about a trip to Cleveland.

But there they were, a disorderly pile of screaming, red-shirted Young Irelands stacked up at midfield, celebrating a shocking Division 1 football win on Sunday over the previously dominating Donegal St. Patricks. The Young Irelands earned the win by a razor-thin margin, 1-13 to 2-9. At the half, the St. Patricks enjoyed a 2-4 to 0-5 lead and seemed to be coasting, continuing to rack up points in the second half. But the Young Irelands chipped away at that lead, sealing the deal with a goal and a point in the final minutes, to exultant cheers from fans on the sidelines.

The win earned the Young Irelands a trip to the North American GAA Finals over the labor day weekend.

In an earlier Junior B matchup, the St. Pats notched a win over the Kevin Barrys, 4-13 to 1-6.

And in the first game of the afternoon, Philly’s Na Toraidhe hurling club won handily over a hard-working team from Allentown. The guys from the Lehigh Valley fought all the way, and never gave up. But in the end, Na Toraidhe’s Kieran Donahue said, superior conditioning won the day.

“Our fitness level wasn’t where it needed to be (last year),” Donahue said. But this year, he added, conditioning was a priority, and it showed as the game progressed. “In the second half, that’s where our fitness level really paid off.”

We have tons of photos. You can see the Young Irelands-St. Pats photo essay up top.

Here are the two others:

St. Pats-Kevin Barrys
Na Toraidhe-Allentown


Two Rollicking GAA Games at Dougherty

gaa20130811homeIn a hard-fought game at Cardinal Dougherty High School field on Sunday, the Young Irelands emerged victorious over the Kevin Barrys in the Junior B Semi Final. The final score was Young Irelands 3-10 to the Barrys 1-11.

It was an emotional match, handily illustrated by a dust-up between the two teams, with a clutch of players rolling around on the ground pounding away. It was broken up by the referee after a few minutes. And then it as back to play as the two sides continued to fight the good fight—this time with a football. The Barrys struggled valiantly, but the Young Irelands pulled away for the win.

In a ladies football game earlier in the afternoon, it was the Notre Dames over the team from DC in a rout: 3-19 to 1-3.

We have tons of photos of the day’s action. The Young Irelands/Kevin Barrys set is above.



A Long, Bruising Afternoon of Hurling and Football

One of Sunday's hard-fought games.

One of Sunday’s hard-fought games.

There came a moment toward the end of the matchup between St. Patricks and the Young Irelands when even the most casual bystander has to realize: These guys are deadly serious. That moment came when a St. Pat’s player hit the ground near the opposing goal face down, writhing in agony for what seemed like ages. The diagnosis, once he’d been hauled off the field, was a broken knee.

The St. Pats won 5-23 to 0-6, but at some cost. Gaelic football is no game for the delicate.

There were three other games at Cardinal Dougherty that afternoon, one additional football match, Kevin Barrys v. Tyrone, and two hard-fought games of hurling, Philly’s Na Toraidhe vs. the DC Gaels, won by the local boys, and the Allentown Hibernians against the Baltimore Bohemians, won by Allentown.

We have—would you believe it?—more than a hundred photos.

There’s one at the top of the page, but you can get to all four of them here: