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Irish Football


Three Big GAA Games This Weekend

They can dish it out and they can take it.

They can dish it out and they can take it.

Philadelphia’s Gaelic Athletics Association season continues Sunday with three Irish football games scheduled for the afternoon.

Bragging rights are on the line in two of the match-ups. In the first game, starting at 1 o’clock at cardinal Dougherty High School in West Oak Lane, the St Pats and Eire Og will slug it out for the Junior C title, says GAA chair Sean Breen. In the second game, two women’s teams—the Mairead Farrells and the Notre Dames—will vie for the Mairead Farrell Cup.

In the last game, the Kevin Barrys and the Young Irelands will play the first of a two-game set for the Philadelphia senior championship.

(And if you’re at the field earlier in the day, you can see some the GAA youth teams playing a series of games as a warm-up to the adult matches.)

Cardinal Dougherty is at 6301 North 2nd Street. The school is closed, alas, but the GAA will be holding court there most Sundays through the rest of the summer.

Starting next summer, though, Breen is hopeful the GAA will be in new digs at a new 11-acre facility in Limerick Township.

Right now, digging is all that’s going on.

“We started on the property last month,” says Breen. “We cut down some trees, and put up an erosion control fence. We’ve also done the entrance way and set up a trailer. Within the next week to week-and-a-half, the dozers will be coming in to remove the topsoil and do all the rough grading. We’re hoping to get at least one field ready for springtime next year.”

The project will bring modern facilities, including shower and locker space, to the Philly GAA. And the project will also mark an important “first” among all U.S. GAA branches. “We own the property,’ says Breen. We’re the only GAA organization in America that owns their own property. This is a really unique situation. We’re in control of our own destiny, and that’s what makes it big for us.”

The project is estimated to cost $2.2 million. The Philly GAA is making good progress toward that goal, and hoping for matching funds from the GAA in Ireland. One major fund-raiser is really humming along. The GAA is holding a raffle on August 22. The grand prize—the only prize—is $40,000. The group started selling tickets in March, and they’re moving. More than half the tickets are sold.

More fund-raising is planned, including a golf outing in the fall.

If you’ve never seen Irish sports in action, Sunday looks like a good day for it: mostly sunny and highs around 90. (But who are we fooling? We’ve seen these guys play in thunderstorms and lakes of mud.) These are the sports of your ancestors. Check out Dougherty on Sunday.


Last Summer of Kicks and Sticks at Cardinal Dougherty

Irish football is clearly a full-contact sport. (Photo by Gwyneth MacArthur)

Irish football is clearly a full-contact sport. Click on the photo to see the full slideshow. (Photo by Gwyneth MacArthur)

It’s the last season of Philly Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) football and hurling at Cardinal Dougherty High School, now that the venerable Olney institution is closing its doors.

(It was once the largest Catholic High School in the world, with more than 6,000 students, but has fallen victim to falling enrollments. The Archdiocese is shutting it down in June.)

Next summer, the hurling and Irish football are set to move to a new facility at Sanatoga and Longview Roads in the Upper Montco town of Limerick.

It’s a bittersweet moment for those who have played, coached or cheered along the sidelines at Dougherty over the last nine or 10 years. “They were pretty good facilities,” says Tom Higgins, a longtime Philly-area GAA player and coach, although he adds that Dougherty was somehow never as attractive to fans as the previous field at Leeds Junior High in Germantown were. “We had great crowds there,” he says. “That was just a super setup. The second we went to Dougherty, the crowd dropped off.”

The GAA has broken ground at the site in Limerick and is in the process of trying to raise $250,000—to be matched by the GAA in Ireland. “I believe it’s going to be ready for next year,” Higgins says.

For now, though, all of the adult games and a few of the youth games will play out the 2010 season on the field at Dougherty. “We had a talk with the priest there, and we knew our lease was good,” Higgins says—though the arrangements will be a little less convenient. “After the end of June, we won’t be able to use the dressing rooms. Through July and August, we won’t be able to use any dressing or shower facilities there.”

And so the season will end. But … there’s still a lot of hurling and football to be played. Games are scheduled every Sunday in June and July, and three Sundays in August.

If you’ve never taken in the fast-paced, full-contact sports of your forebears, you simply must head out to Dougherty. (You might rub shoulders with the Korean athletes who occasionally stop by to watch hurling or Irish football after their soccer game is over on an adjoining field. They clearly know a great sport when they see it.)

In fact, the games have already gotten off to a head start. We dispatched our intrepid photographer Gwyneth MacArthur to Cardinal Dougherty last Sunday to take in a cluster of games. She took more than 50 action-packed shots. Want to see what you’re missing? Click on the photo at upper right.

[googleMap width=”600″ height=”600″]6301 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19120[/googleMap]


For the Delaware County Gaels, the Ultimate Road Trip

The competition

A look at the Delco Gaels' tough competition.

They’re the future of Philadelphia’s Gaelic Athletic Association, and they’re just about to be put to the test.

On the upcoming July 4th weekend, when most of the rest of us are attending parades, noshing on hot dogs and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over fireworks, 22 young members of the Delaware County Gaels Irish football team will be slugging it out at the Féile Peile na nÓg, a national festival of Irish athletics for young people, this year held in County Derry.

Tom Higgins, a Gaels coach, says the boys are looking forward to the challenge and are busily preparing to compete in the tournament’s Division 5. (There are eight divisions in all, with Division 1 reserved for the toughest and most skilled.)

A group of under-14s from the Philly area competed in that grade three years ago, with some success. “We did pretty good,” says Higgins, now a real estate agent in Plymouth Meeting. (He’s originally from Galway, with a long history of involvement—on the field and off—in the Philadelphia GAA.) “We won two out of three. This year we chose to stay in that same division. We try to know our limitations. We’ll play local Irish teams from smaller clubs.”

The trip lasts from June 25 to July 6. Once they get to Ireland, the boys will play a few warm-up matches before they compete in earnest. The first is in Convoy in County Donegal, the next at St. Eunan’s in Letterkenny (also Donegal), and the last against St. Gall’s in Belfast.

Three of the boys who competed three years ago are with the Delco Gaels club that is going to Ireland this year to represent Philadelphia. In the last tourney, the team included members of all the local youth teams. This year, it’s just the Gaels. It’s a strong team, says Higgins.

Like many youth GAA teams in the States, he says, the Gaels are a mix of boys whose dads are from Ireland, who themselves played Gaelic athletics, and kids for whom the sport of Irish football was brand-new when they joined. The Irish come to the game already knowing a lot about it. The kids who have not played before have a bit of a learning curve, he says, but they catch on fast and seem to love it.

“They like the contact,” Higgins says. “They like the speed of it and the passion. It’s like soccer but there’s more activity and it’s higher scoring. It’s a mix of football, soccer, basketball—there’s a few sports jumbled up in there.”

If GAA sports are to survive in the United States—and certainly in the Philadelphia area—Higgins says teams like the Delco Gaels are essential.

Higgins, who has played Irish football in the Delaware Valley for years, says he remembers back in the 1980s, when there were about 15 teams, and the games brought out hundreds of spectators. One reason for the success of GAA teams in those days, he adds, was the participation of players from Ireland—many of whom were in the country illegally. Bringing in players legally these days just isn’t happening.

“Immigration (to the United States) has stopped,” he says. “The players are going to Australia or Canada instead. So we really need to grow our own. It really should have been done long ago.”

The team needs about $50,000 to get the team to Derry, Higgins says, and so far about $35,000 has been raised. The team has already run two fund-raisers, he adds, and around mid-June there will be one more. “That should put us over,” he says.

The team is also looking for a sponsor for its jerseys—roughly $5,000. If you want jersey naming rights—or you want to help in a smaller way—contact Higgins at (215) 275-0591.


Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams Meets with Local GAA Footballers

Gerry Adams, center, with the Mairead Farrell Ladies Junior Football Club in Philadelphia.

Gerry Adams, center, with the Mairead Farrell Ladies Junior Football Club in Philadelphia.

It seemed like the perfect name, says Angela Mohan. When she and Siobhan Trainor were casting about for a name for their new ladies Gaelic football club, they wanted to honor a strong Irish woman. They picked Mairead Farrell, the Belfast-born IRA fighter who spent 10 years in prison and was killed by British soldiers on Gibraltar in 1988.

The insignia associated with Farrell was a phoenix rising from the ashes. It seemed appropriate. Mohan and Trainor have both been involved with other football teams in the Philadelphia area that have folded and later been reborn as interest and the number of seasoned Irish players waxed and waned.

Their new team still relies on the Irish—often with summer visitors that Mohan recruits—but is now bucked up by Americans, many of them superb athletes on the basketball courts, but who have never played the game that started in Ireland the early 14th century.

Nevertheless, the women took home the Sean P. Cawley Cup as Philadelphia’s regional champions after a tough game against the Notre Dames last summer on the fields of Cardinal Dougherty High School.

But it was the name of their team that caught the attention of Gerry Adams, a member of Northern Ireland’s parliament and longtime head of Sinn Fein, the political party closely affiliated with the IRA.

A few months ago, he sent them a letter,commending them for commemorating the life of Mairead Farrell who, he said, “was a very special young woman whose love for her country encompassed its history and culture, including Gaelic games.”

The letter concluded, “I wish you well and hope to see you in Philadelphia in the future.” A typical sign-off. . .except that Adams meant it.

Last Friday, October 16, before Adams attended the annual banquet of the Irish Society in Philadelphia at the Penns Landing Hyatt, he spent half an hour chatting, laughing and posing for pictures with members of the team who came suited up and with a gift—a Mairead Farrell jersey. “I hope it’s extra large,” he joked.

With him was Rita O’Hare, the Sinn Fein representative to the United States, with whom Farrell had stayed in Dublin after her release from prison. “I’m glad Mairead’s name is being used and still being heard,” said O’Hare. Adams, she said was very enthusiastic about meeting the team that bears her name. “Plus he’s mad about GAA,” she laughed.


A Saturday Full of Gaelic Athletics

Action from Saturday's games.

Action from Saturday's games.

Cardinal Dougherty High School field was filled with non-stop action Saturday, including the battle for the McCartan Cup in junior football. 

Teams from throughout the Eastern Seaboard duked it out under clear skies and hot, hot sun.

The D.C. Gaels beat Philly’s Eire Og in the final to win the McCartan Cup. Washington won hurling against the Allentown Hibernians. The ladies from D.C. beat Philadelphia’s Notre Dames in football.

We have shots from the day’s games.


You Go, Girls!

The Mairead Farrells posing with their hard-won cup.

The Mairead Farrells posing with their hard-won cup.

When two great teams meet on the field, the winners are always the folks on the sidelines who are treated to a nail-biting display of athleticism and strategy that they know can always go either way.

But when the Maired Farrells ladies junior footballers came back from half-time during Sunday’s championship round with the Notre Dames, there was no doubt about it—these women had jets they hadn’t turned on yet.

This relatively new team barreled to victory—and they did it despite heat, humidity, rain, and mud. Or, maybe, because of it.

We were there for this exciting game that won the Mairead Farrells the Sean P. Cawley Cup as Philadelphia’s regional championships and earned them a spot on the schedule at the GAA Nationals in Boston over the Labor Day weekend.


Kicking Off Three Days of Championship Youth Football and Hurling

The team from San Francisco making their way up Gay Street.

The team from San Francisco making their way up Gay Street.

Tracy Guerriero was wandering down Gay Street in West Chester, her maple-leaf flag of Canada draped over her shoulder—and looking a bit at half-mast herself.

Guerriero, accompanying the Brampton, Ontario, Rebels, had only just arrived in West Chester that afternoon after a long bus ride. They had just marched in the parade to kick off the Gaelic Athletic Association’s Continental Youth Championships. All the kids had taken off in search of pizza or burgers or whatever they could find to eat.

Leaving Guerriero holding the flag, and with a severe case of bus lag.

“We left this morning at 4:30,” she said. “Ten hours on the bus with the kids—and one bathroom. We’re all a bit punchy.”

Looking only slightly less bedraggled were N. Martin and Miriam Skelly of the Gaeil Colmcille na nOg Club from Kells, County Meath. They’d just flown in from Dublin to Philadelphia the night before. Like all the other teams post-parade, they were checking all of the Gay Street restaurants—opening doors, looking, and seeing huge crowd. Places like Vincent’s, Peace a Pizza and Kildare’s were doing land-office business. The Skellys were hoping for a quick bite before heading back to the hotel. Other than the parade, they hadn’t yet had much time to sample Philadelphia hospitality. “We went to the films this afternoon,” said Martin Skelly, still looking a bit done in.

As night fell—and it was falling pretty quickly even as the parade wound down and the last team made its way up Gay Street escorted by local pipe bands—the town was crawling with kids and families from Ireland, England, and from as far away as San Francisco in the U.S. Ask them what they want to see and do, and the answers are predictable. Like the kid from Chicago standing in line at the Sprazzo gelato joint, who hoped to see the Liberty Bell.

For the group from Brampton, one stop seems essential: “We want to run up the Rocky steps,” said Guerriero. “And we have to have a cheesesteak.”

Of course, the main attraction for the 1,700-plus athletes is the Continental Youth Championships, held today, Saturday and Sunday at Greater Chester Valley Soccer Associations’ Line Road Complex in Willistown, Chester County. For details, visit the CYC Web site.

If you want to see the future of Gaelic athletics in the United States, this is where to see it. The CYC happens but once a year, and this is the first time it has been held in Philly. Check out the games and support the cause of Irish athletics on your home turf.


Hurling, Football Results and Pictures from Sunday’s Games

That's why they call it football.

That's why they call it football.

It was a close one for the Philadelphia Shamrocks hurling team who went up against the Allentown Hibernians again at Cardinal Dougherty High School on Sunday, June 1. The Shamrocks won 3-5 to 3-2.

The Shamrocks team, like the Hibernians, is a brand new bunch of guys, many American who are just learning the game. “We have a stronger team as well, largely Irish, who are going up against Washington, DC, later this year,” says Frank O’Meara, team captain. The other hurling team in Philadelphia, the Brian Borus, folded this year because of lack of players.

Also on the field: The Kevin Barrys GFC trumped the Young Irelanders 1-11 to 1-8 in a fierce game that left three footballers with minor injuries.

  • See the football action.
  • View the slideshow.