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Celtic Supporters Get Ready to Rumble

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Super Bowl? What’s the Super Bowl compared to a match-up between Glasgow’s legendary Celtic Football Club and the Rangers? Now, that’s super.

OK, so it’s the Sevco Rangers, not quite the Rangers team that has been Celtic’s nemesis since the dawn of time, but no matter. It’s a big deal. And if you don’t think so, show up at the Plough and Stars in Old City on Sunday, February 1, at 8:30 in the morning. The game will start at 1:30 in Scotland, so Celtic fans will be up early.

And thanks to the ardent Philly fan group, the 2nd Street Plough Bhoys CSC, there will be a lot of them. A lot, as in hundreds. And not just on Sunday, when the game will be displayed on a giant screen, but the whole weekend, in an event billed as the East Coast Celtic Supporters’ Féile. Féile is a Gaelic word meaning “festival,” but in this case the word seems somehow insufficient.

“This place will be bouncing from Friday through the whole weekend,” said Seamus Cummins, Plough Bhoys spokesman, chatting over beers at the Plough last Sunday along with several other members of the club. “This is our second year. Last year, we had 300, and they came from everywhere. This place was rocking.”

Fellow Plough Bhoy Mairtin O’Braidaigh still seems surprised at that year’s turnout. “We thought we’d bring in people from New York,” he said. Somehow or other members of clubs from around the country came. And from out of the country, too, including Scotland. “We had people drive down from Canada. They left at 4 a.m., and arrived here at 6 p.m. Some people, we didn’t even know were coming. They just came.”

Some of those who joined in the Celtic mania didn’t know that’s what they were joining. Plough Bhoy William “Fitz” Fitzgerald remembers. “People came in off the street, and they were just having a great time. There was just laughter all the time.”

Cummins expects even more fans this time around.

“We expect people to come from Ontario,” he said, “and Detroit, Athens, Ga., the Bronx, Boston, North Jersey, D.C., South Carolina, and Ohio. There will be people who will cross the Atlantic. We call it the Celtic family … and it really is a family.”

One of the highlights of this year, he said, is the premiere of “The Asterisk Years,” a film by author Paul Larkin, documenting the alleged decade-long financial shenanigans by the Rangers organization that many insist cheated Celtic out of titles.

(Highlights of the weekend’s schedule is below.)

The Plough Bhoys are thrilled that this year’s Féile just happens to coincide with a Celtic-Rangers match-up.

“We set this date back in June or July,” Cummins said with something approaching glee in his voice. “We thought the game was going to be against Kilmarnock, just a regular game. But the stars aligned, and we drew our ancient rival. This will be the first time we’ve played a team named the Rangers in three years. We should give them a right hammering. That’ll really kick the party into overdrive.”

Some party it will be.

And, oh, yeah, if you’re interested, there’s some inconsequential little American football game later in the day.

Friday, January 30
4-6 p.m. – The welcoming of the Celtic Family. Celtic Supporters from all over North America will begin to arrive for the Féile weekend. Please bring your club’s banner to be proudly hung in the pub.
7 p.m. – Live Irish/Celtic Music by Jamison’s, John O’Callaghan

Saturday, January 31
11 a.m. – Blessing of the Celtic Family at the National An Gorta Mor Memorial by Father Edward Bradley
1 p.m. – The USA Premier of Paul Larkin’s, “The Asterisk Years”
2:30 p.m. – Q&A Following the film by Paul Larkin, Hosted by Graham Wilson of the The Beyond The Waves Celtic Show
4-7 p.m. – Live Irish/Celtic Music by Ardboe, County Tyrone’s own, Raymond Coleman
7-10 p.m. – Live Irish/Celtic Music by The Bogside Rogues

Sunday, February 1
8:30 a.m. – The first-ever meeting between Celtic & The *Rangers 2012 in the League Cup Semi-Final
12 p.m.  until Kick off of Super Bowl XLIX – Traditional Irish Music Session

Keep up to date on Twitter, official hash tag #celticphillyfeile15

Sports

Field of Dreams

It didn't take long for players to become well acquainted with the field.

It didn’t take long for players to become well acquainted with the field.

The leaders of Philadelphia’s Gaelic Athletic Association were always convinced it was going to happen.

On Saturday, after planning and tireless fund-raising for more than 10 years, the GAA’s long-awaited Limerick Field hosted its first games of football and hurling. They started at midday, and went on for hours, men’s teams, women’s teams, Irish football and hurling, all played with the usual intensity—and maybe a bit of pride of ownership.

This marks the GAA’s long-awaited departure from the athletic field at Cardinal Dougherty High School in the Olney section of Philadelphia, where the league has played for about 20 years.

Nothing against Dougherty, says Philly GAA President Sean Breen. “They were always very good to us. But a regulation field is what we needed.”

Sean Breen

Sean Breen

In Ireland, hurling and football are played on fields a minimum of 130 to 145 meters long, and 80 to 90 meters wide. Rounded out, that would be roughly 140 yards by 85. The field at Dougherty is 130 by 65.

In the past, when out-of-town teams who played on regulation fields would face off against Philly teams, Breen says, “They’d be used to the bigger field, but the local boys wouldn’t.”

The new field, in the shadow of the Limerick cooling towers and the fluffy clouds of steam that hang over them, is nothing short of perfectly flat, with none of the ruts and holes the players contended with before. Even though the day started out rainy, the field was mostly dry by game time. Good drainage was an essential part of the planning for the new facility.

And this is just the start.

The 11 acre-property, Breen says, will have two fields and an 80- by 50-foot building, with four changing rooms, showers and a ballroom. The GAA will rent out the ballroom for receptions and parties, which should defray the costs of the facility. All of this comes at some considerable expense, in the neighborhood of $2.5 million, much of which came from local fund-raising, with a considerable contribution from the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland. “That was a big help,” says Breen.

“We’ll have to keep raising money. There’s going to be a big golf outing in the spring, and we’re looking for a sponsor,” he says.

The showers and changing rooms in particular will offer a marked improvement over the field at Dougherty, where players changed in their cars in the parking lot, and under trees along the sidelines.

The North American GAA’s Gareth Fitzsimons was on hand for the opening games. The new facility, he says, is about more than football and hurling. “When this is completed, it can only help grow Irish culture here in Philly.”

And it’ll do a lot for the GAA in the States, too, he says.

“In the last 15 years, there’s been a big push to promote our games to Americans. Having a place you can call your own can only help promote the GAA, and it will give the GAA new life.”

We have more photos than you can shake a hurley at.

News, Sports

Fight Night at the Festival

A Holy Family boxer, getting ready to rumble

A Holy Family boxer, getting ready to rumble

It was a packed house at the big tent set up behind the Canstatter Club in Northeast Philly. Outside the tent, it was unbearably hot. UNDER the tent, it was like that scene in “Bridge on the River Kwai,” where they lock Alec Guinness in a small dark iron box in the hot sun in the middle of a Burma jungle for days.

Amazingly, the heat didn’t seem to bother the Harrowgate fighters of Philadelphia—or the Holy Family boxers of Belfast who came across the cold dark Atlantic to face them for a long night of tightly scripted bouts. And they were the ones who were exerting themselves.

It was a raucous affair that seemed to draw a lot of spectators, old boxing hands who really knew what they were looking at, along with a lot of families who probably knew less, but thought it might be a nice night out.

Unless you were getting your body pounded in the ring, it really was a good night out.

See for yourself.

Sports

Penn State Pride Heads to Dublin

Linda and Michael Bradley, with Penn State coach James Franklin, and the hefty Dan Rooney Trophy

Linda and Michael Bradley, with Penn State coach James Franklin, and the hefty Dan Rooney Trophy

When the Nittany Lions square off in their season opener against the University of Central Florida in Dublin’s Croke Park on August 30, passionate Penn State grad Michael Bradley will be just one of the thousands of fans watching the game.

Bradley, director of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade and one of the Irish community’s best-connected and most efficient organizers, confesses he had virtually nothing to do with this memorable football game. Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and PSU officials hammered out details, he says, with the involvement of Pittsburgh Steelers chairman and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney.

“Once he got involved, it started snowballing,” Bradley says. “I was out after that.”

They call it the Croke Park Classic (pronounced crowe), and it’s the first game played outside of the United States for both teams. The last time an American football match-up took place in Croke Park was 1996. It was the Shamrock Classic, Notre Dame vs. Navy. Notre Dame won. Of course.

The winner of this match-up will carry home the very heavy (Bradley has held it) Dan Rooney Trophy, a wood made of bog yew from Ireland, and steel recycled from Three Rivers Stadium.

Configured for this game, Croke Park will hold 70,000. (The stadium typically holds 82,000 for the far more customary Gaelic football and hurling.) Attendance at the Shamrock Classic was poor, but that won’t be an issue this time, Bradley says. “We’re up around 43,000 tickets.  We should be pretty close to sellout by game time.” (Penn State travel packages are already sold out.)

For its part, the GAA knew it had its best chance of success with Penn State. “The GAA really pushed to get Penn State. They have the largest alumni association in the world.”

Even though Bradley was content to let others take the lead, he had the opportunity to become acquainted with the athletic director, Dave Joyner, and the then head football coach Bill O’Brien. “Bill and I became kind of close. He’s Irish, with roots in County Clare. His wife is named Colleen. It was a perfect match.”

He also made the acquaintance of new coach James Franklin. Franklin’s father was black, but his mother was from England. “He said to me, “You know where were they married? Ireland. I’m more Irish than you are, dude.’”

For Franklin’s players, this might be their first trip to Ireland, and after all of the trauma of the past few years, Bradley hopes that, for the players at least, it’s part of the healing process. “It’s great for the kids. They’re really excited about it.”

The excitement won’t last all that long, though. “Franklin is a real taskmaster,” Bradley says. “He’s sticking them on the plane and flying them right back.”

Like any Penn State game, this one will be preceded by a pep rally—this one in Temple Bar. And for this, Bradley has taken on a job—organizing a band for the occasion. “I’m sending out emails to alumni members who are coming on the trip who play an instrument, and I’m asking them to bring it. I don’t care if it’s only 10 guys. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

Sports

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.

Sports

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!

Sports

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
Sports

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.