By Eamonn Kelly
For the first time since 1995, Chicago will be the host city for this year’s North American county board championship finals.
Recognized as the finest Irish sports complex in North America, Chicago Gaelic Park is all set to accommodate the huge 51-game schedule, the biggest in the 42-year history of the board.
In addition to the main Gaelic Park field, three additional playing fields adjacent to the main complex have been prepared to accommodate the tournament.
Preparation for this event has been an enormous task for the local central division board. More than 2,000 players and supporters are expected from all corners of the country.
It is anticipated that more than 10,000 people will attend the games to be played this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
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Fifteen cities representing 10 divisional boards will be competing in one or more of the following competitions: senior, intermediate and junior (A & B) football; senior and junior hurling, ladies senior and junior football; camogie: minor and juvenile football.
Making predictions in terms of what cities and clubs will carry home the trophies is extremely difficult as several of last years winners have failed to retain their divisional titles.
In senior hurling, Chicago Harry Bolands and San Francisco Na Fianna failed to win in their respective divisions. Likewise in senior football where Chicago St. Brendans and North American champions Boston McAnespies could not hold on to their divisional titles. Also, last year’s ladies senior football champions Chicago Erins Rovers did not retain their divisional title and the city will now be represented by St. Brigids.
The following is a brief review of the standings around the country:
Atlanta vs. Denver
Thanks to the playoff draw conducted last June, one of these two cities will be represented in a final of this year’s playoffs. The Atlanta Clan na Gael face the Denver Gaels in the semi-final of the junior "B" championship on Saturday. With both teams on level footing, having no competition all year, it should be an interesting encounter.
Only Atlanta will be represented in ladies football where the Clan na Gael will face Boston in the junior quarter final on Friday evening.
New champions will be coming out of the Windy City this year as none of the 1998 winners could retain their titles.
Biggest surprise has been in senior hurling where Erin’s Own, a team ranked third in midseason, made tremendous improvement during the last several weeks, beating the odds and existing national champions Harry Bolands to represent the city as the Central divisional champions.
With intercounty players such as Tipperarymen Liam McGrath and Andy Maloney and Leigh O’Brien from Wexford, Erin’s Own will offer a strong challenge for the hurling championship. In a runnersup final last Sunday, Harry Bolands defeated Cu Chulainn to qualify as the No. 2 Chicago entry in the playoffs.
Wolfe Tones, after a one year lapse, are back again as the senior football representatives following an unbeaten season.
Their toughest game of the campaign was in last week’s final against Parnells. The 1998 champions, St. Brendan’s, failed miserably this year, and despite having the services of several intercounty players they never even reached the divisional final. They were beaten by Parnells who gave the more experienced Wolfe Tones a great challenge in the final but came out second best.
So, Wolfe Tones, who won three consecutive national senior titles in 1995-97, and share the record with Cleveland St. Pat’s (1964-66), are back in the playoffs and no doubt will be the team to beat for national honors.
Their lethal forward line will include such inter county players as Rory Mone (Monaghan) and Kevin O’Brien (Wicklow).
The Parnells did qualify for a playoff spot as the second Chicago team with a two point victory over St. Brendan’s in the runnersup final last Sunday.
In junior football, McBrides lost their title to Padraig Pearse in the semi-final but the Pearse were no match for a very strong St. Brendan’s squad who beat them 4-13 to 0-6 in last Sunday’s final.
For the first time since the affiliation of women’s football with the North American Board, Chicago has a new champion. Erin’s Rovers, 1998 American Board champions and the dominant team in Chicago for several years, relinquished their divisional title to St. Brigid’s, who should give a good account of themselves in the playoffs.
St. Patrick’s club from the Pompano Beach area of Florida will be represented again by three teams in this years playoffs.
The most important event for this enterprising club will be the men’s Junior "A" competition, where they will be going for their third consecutive title. They face a tough challenge from the Detroit Wolfe Tones in the quarterfinal on Friday.
St. Pat’s also will be represented in men’s junior football "B" and women’s junior football.
Midwest (Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh)
Detroit Wolfe Tones who failed to get past the quarterfinal stages of the Junior "A" football playoffs in Washington, D.C., last year are back on the national hunt again.
After struggling with their city rivals, Padraig Pearse, in the semi-final to emerge winners with only two points to spare, they went on to beat Cleveland St. Jarlath’s by six points in the divisional final.
The Tones will now play national champions Florida St. Pat’s in the quarterfinal next Friday.
St. Jarlaths qualified to represent the Midwest in the Junior "B" quarterfinal with Florida St. Pat’s B team providing the opposition in the quarter final on Friday.
Florida St. Pat’s will also provide the opposition for Cleveland St. Ann’s in the women’s junior quarterfinal on Friday.
In a thrilling senior football championship, Shannon Blues emerged as the 1999 champions.
They defeated the 1998 national title holders McAnespies in the semifinal and then went on to defeat Kerry by two points, 1-10 to 1-8, in last Sunday’s final to win the divisional final.
A most attractive semifinal is awaiting as Shannon Blues opponents will be Wolfe Tones from Chicago, the winner of three consecutive nationals in 1995-1997.
The Blues, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary, will include in their lineout such intercounty players as Kieran Maher (Dublin), Steve McGuire (Fermanagh) and marksman Conor Kenneally (Roscommon).
Connemara Gaels recaptured the intermediate football title they last held in 1997 with a two-point victory over 1998 winners Notre Dame in a low-scoring, 0-7 to 0-5, final last Sunday.
With only one other division competing in the intermediate division, the Gaels will now face San Francisco Sons of Boru in the final next Sunday.
The Shannon Blues club had further success when their junior footballers gained divisional honors with a 3-15 to 2-15 victory over Donegal in a most exciting final last Sunday. The Blues will now meet Chicago St. Brendan’s in a quarterfinal game next Friday.
Tipperary retained their senior hurling title with an easy 13-point victory over Fr. Tom’s and will play Chicago champions Erin’s Own in the semi-final next Saturday.
Cork junior hurlers, who came within two points of winning the national title against San Jose St. Joseph’s last year, failed to retain their divisional title when they lost by three points to Galway, 1-12 to 1-9, in the final. Galway now have a date with the champions, St. Josephs, in the quarterfinal next Friday.
In ladies senior football, Boston Shamrocks had a big win, 2-20 to 1-10, over Roscommon last Sunday and will face Chicago Eri’ns Rovers in a semifinal game next Saturday.
Seattle Gaels Junior B footballers will enter the quarterfinal stages of the tournament with no competition. They failed in their attempt to reach the semifinals last year when badly beaten by the Clan na Gael team from Atlanta.
While the luck of the draw gave the Seattle team a bye to the semifinal, they are not expected to be good enough to beat the winners of the Florida/Midwest quarterfinal winners.
The Seattle Gaels ladies football squad are reportedly stronger than last year and are expected to give a good account of themselves against Southern California champions, Dirty Nellies, in the junior quarterfinal on Friday.
Senior football champions Kevin Barrys retained their title with a five-point win, 2-10 to 1-8, over Donegal in the final last Sunday.
Their opponents in next Saturday’s semifinal will be the Chicago runnersup, Parnells.
Donegal also lost the junior football final, being narrowly defeated by Derry, 1-12 to 1-11.
Derry will play the winners of the Chicago McBrides/Padraig Pearse game next Friday.
Southern California (Los Angeles, San Diego)
San Diego Clan na Gael, who made it to the semifinal stages of the Junior "A" football competition last year, will be back in the playoffs again this year, having disposed of the Los Angeles Wild Geese in the divisional final.
They will now play the winners of the Western division final replay between Naomh Padraig and Young Irelanders.
Los Angeles St. Pat’s junior hurlers, who gave a great account of themselves when losing by only one point to Boston Cork last year, are expected to put in another good challenge this year. They face the Philadelphia champions in the semifinal next Saturday.
Western (San Francisco, San Jose)
Intermediate football champions Sean McDermotts relinquished their title to Sons of Boru in last Sunday’s final by a score of 2-11 to 0-10.
The new champions now face Boston Connemara Gaels in the final next Sunday.
In a marvelous high-scoring junior football final, Young Irelanders and Naomh Padraig were all level after 90 minutes last Sunday. The winners of the midweek replay will face San Diego Clan na Gael in the quarterfinal next Friday.
In an excellent three-game series in senior hurling, Naomh Padraig came out on top against 1998 winners, Na Fianna.
Naomh Padraig, who won their first national title just two years ago in front of their home supporters in San Francisco, are expected to make a bold bid to recapture the hurling cup this year. They play current champions Chicago Harry Bolands in the semifinal next Saturday.
Fog City Harps will represent the division in women’s senior football and will meet Chicago champions St. Brigid’s on Friday.