There’s a new team in town.
For the first time in seven years, the Philadelphia Gaelic Athletic Association football lineup will include Tyrone, a club that was premier in the city since 1949 but, like other Gaelic clubs, struggled with the loss of players—immigrants who returned home—and the pressures of fundraising and time, the two plagues of every volunteer group.
Tyrone’s first match against the Kevin Barrys on Thursday night, under storm-darkened skies at Cardinal Dougherty High School in Olney, wasn’t the best of debuts. The seasoned Barrys controlled the ball the entire game and, at least on the Tyrone sidelines, no one even bothered to keep a score. It was a rout.
But, as coach Aidan Trainor told the crestfallen team at half-time, “You can’t lose heart. “
Trainor didn’t. Nor did his brothers, Sean and Joe, who, with Peter McDermott and Noel Coyle, resurrected the team this year, basically appropriating the National Junior C champions, the Eire Ogs, to form the new team. “It’s all for the love of the red hand of Tyrone,” said McDermott, referring to the red hand that appears on the Tyrone flag. The upright hand honors Eoghain O’Neill, high King of Ulster, who, in a sea race to claim his land, took the rules literally. The first to lay a hand on the land was its king, so O’Neill cut off his hand and threw it to shore. There are those who will tell you that that exemplifies the Tyrone spirit: They’ll do whatever it takes.
That offers some hope for the season which starts now at Cardinal Dougherty and may end at the GAA’s new field in Limerick. “One of the fields is finished,” said Sean Trainor, “but we have some work to do on the parking lot.”
Also in the hope department: The reinforcements have yet to arrive, but the Irish players who spend their summers in Philadelphia just to play football in the heat and humidity are on their way. There are fewer Irish accents on the field before they arrive; many of the players these days are Irish-American (some not even Irish) who made their way through the vibrant local GAA youth clubs. It’s not easy getting even visiting players, says Sean Trainor. “Not when air fares are $1,000. But some of the players are willing to pay their own fare.” They’re that motivated.
Peter McDermott wasn’t concerned that the Tyrone team’s first effort on the field wasn’t the best. That, he said, is yet to come. “They were playing a senior team and it’s good for them,” he pointed out. “That’s how you learn, you know.”
Check out our photos of the action.
On Thursday, May 30, the Young Irelands will meet the St. Patricks on the Dougherty fields, 6301 N. Second Street, in Philadelphia, starting at 6:30 PM.