Yes, Jackie “The Hammer” Daley won her match.
The Irish Center ballroom turned into a boxing ring last Saturday night for the second annual Young Irelands Gaelic Football Club’s “Fight Night.” Except for the mirrored balls on the ceiling and the occasional glimpses of the Irish countryside backdrop on the stage, you would have sworn you were at Madison Square Garden.
There were 10 match-ups of male and female amateur boxers and while they pulled no punches–literally, as you could tell by the blood–the purpose was and remained entertainment.
The Young Irelands has been playing Gaelic football in the Philadelphia area for about 28 years.
Check out our photos above and pretend you were there!
Never too young to learn hurling.
Why do hurlers wear helmets? Every one of the little people who lined up to learn a bit about the no-hold-barred Irish sport, knew the answer, summed up by one little girl eager to take a crack at the ball herself: “‘Cause if you don’t, you will hurt your head.”
The football field at Bishop McDevitt High School on Sunday afternoon was filled with small, enthusiastic kids, all of them running, jumping, and kicking. Because those are the things you do when you play the traditional Irish sports of hurling and Gaelic football.
Brendan Gallagher and his many colleagues on the new Glenside Gaelic Athletic Association club are hoping the fun of the weekend clinic will carry over into a season, and more, of youth GAA competition.
“I’m very happy with the turnout today,” Gallagher said. “We probably had around 35 kids. I’m not sure how many have registered so far. Some were here out of curiosity, and some were friends of kids who had already signed up. We’re encouraged by the numbers and the interest level. For a club to get off the ground with a sport that maybe 99 percent of the population in an area have never heard of, that’s always going to be a challenge, but we’re very happy.”
A hands-on clinic is one of the best ways to get kids interested in Gaelic sports, Gallagher said. Also helpful? A demonstration game by kids from the Delco Gaels GAA.
For Gallagher, a youth GAA club based in Glenside is about more than sports. It’s also about the survival of Irish culture in the Philadelphia area, including music, dance and more.
“Any Gaelic club formed in a parish in Ireland is well known because of its sports, but it also has speech and drama. It has music. It has dancing. It’s all part of the club. It’s a hub for the whole community. And that’s what we want; we want to be part of the community.”
Other Irish cultural organizations have had a good deal of success in perpetuating all the various aspects of Gaelic culture—notably, the dance schools. “They’re our role model,” Gallagher said. We’re trying to emulate their model. They’ve been so successful. We have a little catching up to do. If we want our culture to be passed on down and survive, we have to step up and do something about it.”
The next registration will be held April 20 at 10 a.m. at the MacSwiney Club, 510 Greenwood Avenue, in Jenkintown.
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Kids might have been the most excited fans … but it would have been a close contest.
Up Donegal! If we heard it once, we heard it a thousand times, and it never got tired. On a Tuesday night when a lot of kids otherwise would have been home getting ready for bed, they were instead decked out in their bright yellow Donegal jerseys and running around the Philadelphia Irish Center like children possessed.
And possessed they were, perhaps, by the presence of the shiny Sam Maguire Cup, brought to Philadelphia by three incredibly proud representatives of the 2012 All-Ireland Football champion team from Donegal: coach Jim McGuinness, along with all-stars Mark McHugh and Michael Murphy.
When the kids weren’t setting land-speed records running from one end of the Irish Center ballroom to the other, they were standing in line with their parents, relatively patiently, waiting for the chance to get their pictures taken with cup and players.
And yes, the place was jammed with ecstatic adult fans, too, including dozens of Donegal natives, and sons and daughters of natives, celebrating the county’s first All-Ireland championship in 20 years. (And they were just as eager to get their picture taken, too.)
After a couple of hours smiling and posing, McGuinness and his players adjourned to the ballroom, where they accepted presentations from the Philadelphia Donegal Association, along with local Gaelic Athletic Association representatives, the Philadelphia Irish Center, state lawmakers Kevin and Brendan Boyle, and many others.
For the Donegal footballers, it had been a long day, but they showed no evidence of tiring. Player Mark McHugh, son of legend Martin McHugh, was still a little wound up—or maybe just jet-lagged—as he spoke about his Philadelphia welcome, and the rigors of the tightly coordinated U.S. victory lap.
“We just got in this morning,” he said. “We flew into New York, and we just drove down. We’re flying off to Chicago at 9 o’clock in the morning, and back to New York on Thursday. It’s just a full-time job, but it’s a good complaint to have. If we hadn’t won the All-Irelands, we wouldn’t be here.
“It’s so good to see all the American kids wearing the Donegal jersey. That’s one of our main reasons for coming over, to promote the GAA, to get young kids involved. And as they get older, maybe their kids will get involved. You never know what could happen.”
Addressing the many fans who have waited a long time to see the cup return to Donegal, McGuinness thanked his hosts for the wildly enthusiastic turnout.
“It’s a great honor for us to be here tonight,” he said. “And along with the honor goes a lot of pride. We’re very happy to bring the Sam Maguire Cup to Philadelphia and the United States. There’s obviously a lot of people in the room tonight who have very, very strong connections to Donegal who were not able to make the journey home for the final, and that’s why I feel it’s very special to take the cup across the water and let the people who were not fortunate enough to be there on the day get their hands on the cup and pretend you’re Michael Murphy.”
McGuinness also recalled his brief time playing football in Philadelphia in the summer of 1999. “I made a lot of very good friends here that I still have to this day. It’s fantastic to be back amongst everybody tonight. I just hope it won’t be 20 years before we’re back with the cup.”
We have many photos from the night’s celebration. Check out our photo essay, above.
“The Sam” drew an enthusiastic young audience in a previous visit to Philadelphia.
Jim McGuinness, manager of the Donegal Senior Football Team that this year snagged the All-Ireland Senior Football Championships, played on Philadelphia’s Donegal team for five short weeks in the summer of 1996. He visited Philly again in 1999, and evidently liked what he saw.
When he arrives on Tuesday night for one more visit—this time to the Philadelphia Irish Center—he’ll have some splashy company. It’s called the Sam Maguire Cup, more familiarly known as “the Sam,” awarded to the winning senior football team.
“Jim McGuinness was here 13 years ago,” says Louie Bradley, chair of the Philly Gaelic Athletic Association team, the Delco Gaels. “He hasn’t been back in all that time, and he knows a lot of people here, which is why he wants to come back.”
The Philadelphia visit is one of several in the U.S.—a kind of victory lap that will take McGuinness and the cup to such Irish hotbeds as Chicago, Boston and New York City. The Irish Center event—billed as “An Evening with Jimmy McGuinness and the Sam Maguire Cup”—will also bring to town two Donegal all-stars, Mark McHugh and Michael Murphy.
As eager as McGuinness is to visit Philly, the Sam Maguire tour schedule is tight. Bradley says the local Gaelic Athletic Association, which had only a couple of weeks to pull things together, was hoping to get the Donegal delegation to come to town on a Saturday, but “we had to take what we could get. We are lucky to get them.”
Nevertheless, the local GAA is expecting a great turnout on Tuesday night, with 250 to 300 of tickets already sold, with time to sell more. “It should be a big crowd,” says Bradley.
Admission to the event is $50, which will buy you hors d’oeuvres, dancing to the music of Sullivan Bridge, and photos with the cup, coach, and his all-stars. Kids under 18 will be admitted for free. (Bradley is expecting as many as 100 of them.) Local organizations, such as the Philadelphia Donegal Association and Donegal Philly GAA, will present tributes. State Legislators (and brothers) Kevin and Brendan Boyle will present a citation from the Commonwealth. The Donegal athletes can also expect to receive the key to the city.
The event runs from 7 to 11 p.m.
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Peter Gallagher and friends lead the cheers.
John Kildea was supposed to be getting ready for a christening, but, he confessed, he “sneaked out” wearing his Donegal shirt to catch the Donegal-Mayo match for the coveted Sam Maguire Cup, broadcasting live from Dublin’s Croke Park on six screens at the Commodore Barry Club “The Irish Center” in Mt. Airy.
“I have to be back by half 12,” he said. Kildea lives in Delaware County and could have gone to Paddy Rooney’s Pub. But he said, laughing, “it’s more of a Mayo bar. Win or lose we could get hammered.”
Now, we’ve seen photos of the crowd at Paddy Rooney’s in Havertown, and it was looking mighty green and gold to us. And that was the prevailing color at the Irish Center as well though the red and green of Mayo was well represented in hats, shirts, socks, and in a few cases, faces and hair.
More than 300 people saw the game at the center, where they could also enjoy a full Irish breakfast. Well, at least some of them could. Tyrone-born Geraldine Quigg, who helped prepare the meal, said they sold 180 breakfasts. “Then we ran out of food.”
That sounds bad, but it’s a good thing. It was also a good thing that there was barely room at the bar to breathe and that just about every seat in the place was taken. No one was complaining.
“This is the way it was when we were kids,” said Muireann McGill McFeeters, who is Philly-born and bred but whose father, Jim McGill, is one of the earliest members of the Irish Center. “We would wear our jerseys and paint our faces.”
Another infrequent visitor said it reminded him of Sundays when he was a kid. “Nothing’s changed,” he said, over the din at the bar. “It’s the same bar and the same nice people.”
Donegal takes ownership of the Sam Maguire Cup on Sunday, September 23, 2012. Photo courtesy of Liam Porter.
“I really want the boys to win for the journey that they’ve been on and to end the journey on a positive. And once they have it, if they get it, nobody could ever take it away from them and that would be something for them. For them, for their kids, for their family. Everybody.” – Donegal Manager Jim McGuinness (pre all-Ireland final press conference)
As Donegal’s celebrations erupted on the final whistle on Sunday, there was only one thing that Martin McHugh wanted – and that was to hug and congratulate his son Mark.
Martin, a winner with Donegal in 1992 was on the sideline working for the BBC at the final whistle when Mark ran to him. The clip of that emotional embrace will become one of the iconic images of the 2012 final and in many respects sums up what all-Ireland day really means.
There is no doubt that to win the Sam Maguire is the pinnacle in the sporting sense for GAA footballers – but for their county it is also something bigger than that, something that transcends sport.
Donegal’s win over Mayo was, to use the words of Jim McGuinness, “a journey.” While he brought his players on a particular journey to achieve the pinnacle in sporting terms, they brought the rest of the county with them, re-affirming pride, passion and a real sense of belonging.
In essence it sums up the very best of the GAA. That sense of community pride, joy, energy and enthusiasm that permeates the organization to the grass roots and is replicated week in and week out in club games across the country.
To those involved in clubs, those who stand on a cold wet January evening watching a McKenna Cup game, it is something natural. It is part of their DNA.
And because of that, they don’t always grasp the phenomenon that sweeps a county into a frenzy – but it happens anyway.
It happens because, whether we like it or not, our lives are more often than not shaped to a large degree by lines drawn on a map.
Where we’re born, where we grew up, where we live, have a huge bearing in our sense of identity.
We can travel – but we always measure travel, where we go and what we do – to home.
It is where we start out, and it is where we know we will always to some degree belong.
That’s what brought people from all over the world – including many from Philadelphia -to Croke Park on Sunday to cheer on the team and it was that sense of home, that sense of family and community that made Sunday’s win such a memorable one.
It was highlighted not only by that wonderful McHugh embrace, or by the players’ children on the field at the end, but also by the hugs and sheer delight of family members and friends from all over Donegal meeting, often for the first time in ages, in such exciting and thrilling circumstances.
Family and friends – were reunited on the most delightful of days and everyone with a drop of Donegal blood beamed and almost burst with pride.
This was more than just a football game. The people of Donegal have a new family member.
Sam Maguire, we’re delighted to have you. We’ll make you more than welcome.
See more photos from the event here.
See some clips from the game.
Manager Jim McGuinness and Donegal singer Daniel O’Donnell duet on “Destination Donegal.”
“Jimmy’s Winning Matches,” with Mark McHugh and the team.
Read a poem by Liam Porter.
Liam Porter is a freelance sports writer in Donegal who has a large family right here in the Philadelphia region. Donegal manager Jim McGuinness played GAA football in Philadelphia in 1999.
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Donegal Coach Jim McGuinness played in the Philly GAA in 1999. Photo Evan Logan
By Liam Porter
Across County Donegal, Ireland, there is only one topic of conversation this week – and that’s football.
Gaelic football that is. Donegal have qualified for their first all-Ireland final in twenty years and the county has gone crazy.
Houses, shops, even sheep have been painted in the county colours of green and gold and the one question everybody wants an answer to – where can they get their hands on a ticket for the game?
The all-Ireland final, is to Gaelic football what the Superbowl is to American football.
It is arguably though, a much bigger deal.
Over 82,000 people will pack into Dublin’s Croke Park on September 23rd to watch Donegal play Mayo – many thousands more will watch on television.
And they’ll be there to watch – not multi-million dollar earning sports stars – but amateurs; teachers, bank officials, engineers – all giving their all in an effort to win Gaelic football’s biggest prize.
It’s a tough prize to win too. The country’s most successful football team, Kerry, was the last team to win back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.
Fancied again for success in 2012, Kerry fell to Donegal at the quarter-final stage in August. Last year’s winners, Dublin, were put to the sword against Mayo who have waited even longer than Donegal to taste all-Ireland success.
Their last win came way back in 1951 and rumors abound that having driven past a funeral during their celebrations, they were cursed by a priest who said they’d never win another until every member of that squad was dead.
They’ve been in five finals since then, most recently in 2006 and have lost them all.
It’s perhaps not such a surprise then that the build up in Mayo is a much lower key affair than the hype and hysteria that has been going on in Donegal.
Mayo manager James Horan has kept his squad in the county doing what they would normally do in the build up to a match.
And he’s confident that their approach will be the right one to topple a Donegal side who have ruffled the feathers of big teams like Kerry and Cork on their way to the final.
The man responsible for the Donegal transformation – Jim McGuinness – was a member of the Donegal panel in 1992 when the county won their only All-Ireland, and as a coach he has really earned his corn.
Yet as a player, McGuinness had pretty much done it all. A fringe member of the 1992 squad he has won Ulster and All-Ireland medals and at College’s level he won three prestigious Sigerson Cups.
He represented Ireland in the 1998 Compromise Rules series against Australia and in 1999 he travelled to Philadelphia to play for a Philadelphia Donegal team that included fellow Donegal player Brian McLaughlin and Tyrone player Ciaran Gourley.
Playing with his home-town club Naomh Conaill from Glenties in 2005 he won the Donegal Senior Championship after which McGuinness had his eyes on coaching.
“I’ve always liked working with people who want to achieve, who want to better themselves,” he said last week as he prepared his team for the biggest game of their lives.
Under his guidance the Donegal players who have themselves won two Ulster titles, have become hugely respected for their fitness, discipline and dedication.
That is in no small measure down to the level of preparation and the attention to detail the coach and his backroom staff have brought to the set up.
As the county went wild with flags and bunting and songs for Donegal, McGuinness had his players whisked away from all the madness to training camps in Kildare and Meath.
There the Donegal team could work without distraction on tactics and preparations for their battle with Mayo.
Meanwhile back in their home county and indeed everywhere there are Donegal folk gathered including Philadelphia, the talk continued about football, football, football and the search for tickets…