Monty Maloney’s decision not to seek another term as president was the first such rumbling and Liam Bermingham’s election victory over Kieran O’Sullivan further enlivened the offseason. By far the biggest news of the winter was, of course, the New York GAA’s decision to ban all weekend footballers. The Monaghan football club’s motion was passed overwhelmingly and enthusiastically, causing much comment on both sides of the Atlantic.
Both the free-spending and the parsimonious clubs alike seemed to feel that now was the time for the New York GAA to reign themselves in and concentrate on their own players. Bermingham is on record as wanting to tighten up the New York GAA’s policing practices after several matches last season were tainted by rumors of teams fielding illegal players.
Now, as the snow begins to melt and the battered grass struggles to reassert its claim to New York’s parklands, Gaelic supporters in the New York area can at last begin to look forward to the coming season.
Just precisely where and when the season will start is somewhat uncertain at this point. The New York GAA is aiming for an April 6 opener, with the 13th as the backup date. If the field is slow to recover, the 2003 season may begin in Rockland.
By the end of last season, Gaelic Park, resplendent in May, had been reduced to a barren plain. The rugged winter has been no help and so now, with just weeks to go before the scheduled start of the season and only two months before New York’s footballers host Leitrim in the Connaught Championship, Gaelic Park’s pitch is unplayable.
Sod is likely to be laid and if the weather cooperates, it should be ready for the New York matches. The footballers play on May 4 and the hurlers take on Derry in the Ulster semifinal the following Sunday. The two New York county sides are under new management and are racing the clock to prepare their sides for their rapidly approaching challenges. Donegal man Leslie McGettigan leads the big ball contingent, while Tipperary’s John Madden recently took charge of the hurlers.
Both squads have been limited by the rough weather as well as other problems unique to New York in championship play. As McGettigan pointed out, “Leitrim have had about a half dozen good, tight games since Christmas.”
Ironically, while conditions for the players have improved to an almost semi-professional level in Ireland, here in New York City the bastion of capitalism, the amateur sportsman persevere. When this training session is over the New York players will simply pick up their sodden bags and go home. There will be no masseuse, nor even a shower. Sunday, there will be no league schedule to keep their skills sharp and build teamwork, and no club matches to keep their competitive juices stoked.
A recent training session highlighted the mountain the New York teams must scale. The snow gave way to a heavy downpour of rain as both sides gathered to train separately at Lincoln High School in Yonkers.
A blacktop track had been mostly cleared of snow, but the grass infield was still blanketed in white and useless to the managers. Both McGettigan and Madden pushed their men hard and seemed to have no trouble motivating their players. However, it was evident that some players were a long way from fit, while others were much further along.
McGettigan concedes that this disparity is “alarming” while expressing confidence that his men could get there. “We’re getting great interest and great effort, but we’ve got to sharpen up on our skills,” he said.
McGettigan is taking over from charismatic Paddy Kearney, who led a spirited New York challenge last May versus Sligo. Several of last year’s panel won’t be available to McGettigan, most notably Michael Slowey, who has returned to Ireland. There have also been turnovers in the hurling camp, although Madden believes “it is good to get some new blood into the team.”
Madden, an All-Ireland winner with his native Tipperary before coming to New York, is under no illusions about the task at hand. “At home, it’s all laid on for you. You know where you’re going to train, you have a gym, you have the best pitches in the country all set up for you,” he said.
Madden indicated his surroundings with a nod. “Here we’re struggling,” he said recentlt. “This is the first day we’ve gotten out and we’ve only two months to put together a county team. It’s next to impossible.”
Of course, both Madden and McGettigan believe that it can be done. Each has donned the New York colors and Madden may again, as a player/manager, so they know what they’re up against. Along side the disparity in training facilities, the lack of match practice is New York’s main obstacle in both codes.
Again, this year’s weather has been problematic with both teams limited to physical training so far and the proposed challenge matches with Boston uncertain. Both managers have expressed confidence in their teams’ ability to overcome the odds. They have until May to figure out how.