By Eamon Kelly
Chicago’s Gaelic Park will host this year’s North American County Board championship playoffs over the Labor Day weekend. Fifty-five games, including a youth schedule, will be played over the course of the weekend, beginning Friday at 1:30 p.m.
A special playoff committee headed by former American Board Chairman Harry Costello, and the Chicago Central division, under the chairmanship of Joe Begley, are completing arrangements for this Gaelic sports extravaganza, which is expected to attract 10,000 people.
In addition to the main Gaelic Park field, four additional playing fields adjacent to the main complex have been prepared to accommodate the tournament. Fifteen cities representing 10 divisional boards will send teams to compete in one or more of the following competitions: senior, intermediate, junior (A and B) football; senior and junior hurling; women’s senior and junior football; camogie; minor and juvenile football.
For the first time, Charlotte, N.C., will be represented. With the exception of the Northeast Division (Boston) and one replay to be played in the Western Division (San Francisco/San Jose), divisions have completed their championships and identified their playoff teams.
Following is a brief review of each competition:
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Current champions Chicago Wolfe Tones, who emerged victorious from a most competitive Central Division championship, will be seeking a record 12th national championship and their fifth in the last seven years. After mediocre displays early in the season, they have developed into a well-balanced side with a solid defense and a potentially lethal offensive line that includes the two brothers from Monaghan, Rory and Fergal Mone. While they are expected to overcome a good challenge from last year’s Intermediate winners, the Ulster club from San Francisco, in the semifinal, they will face stiff
competition should they reach the final against the winners of the Philadelphia/Boston semifinal. Donegal has emerged as the Philadelphia representative, who will meet the winners of the Boston final, McAnespies or Donegal. McAnespies, who won their only North American Board title in 1998, are favorites to beat either Donegal club.
For the first time in several years four divisions will have representatives in this championship. Philadelphia Kevin Barry-Derry, who missed the title last year in a a point to the San Francisco Ulster club, will look for revenge when both teams meet in this year’s semifinal. In the other semi, Clann Na Gael from San Diego, who won the 1997 Junior “B” title in 1997 and easily captured the Junior “A” championship last year, will face strong opposition from the winner of the Boston final between St. Columbkills and Kerry. Those fans most associated with intermediate football predict Kerry to take the national title.
Junior Football “A”
Cork’s junior footballers, who gave impressive displays to win the title in San Francisco last year, are very much in the running to regain the cup this year. While they barely survived in a Boston quarterfinal clash with Donegal, they had six points to spare over McAnespies in the semifinal to qualify for the divisional final against Wolfe Tones. The winners have a bye to the NACB semifinal against either Chicago Padraig Pearse or Pittsburgh Celtic.
The Celtics captured their first Midwest Divisional championship with a victory over Wolfe Tones from Detroit. The Tones will be the division’s representative in the Junior “B” competition. St. Brendan’s of Chicago failed to retain their divisional championship when they were beaten by a well-balanced Padraig Pearse, who are in the playoff for the first time since 1997.
Florida St. Pat’s, who won the title in 1997 and ’98, will make another bid to regain their crown. They will play Philadelphia Young Irelanders in the quarterfinal, with the winners going on to meet the Western Division champions, Namoh Padraig or Sons of Boru.
Junior Football “B”
With last year’s winners, Washington, D.C., Gaels, missing key players from last year’s side, the competition is wide open. Washington’s quarterfinal opponents are Atlanta Gaels. Strong favorites will be the Denver Gaels, who won the cup in 2000. They are expected to beat newcomers Charlotte James Connolly in their opening match. Likewise, the Seattle Gaels should have little problem advancing as they are favorites to beat St. Brendan’s from the Western Division. Perhaps the most competitive quarterfinal clash will be between the Detroit Wolfe Tones and Los Angeles Wild Geese. The Tones will have the advantage of game experience after coming in second in the highly competitive Midwest Division.
Current champions Boston Galway relinquished their Northeast title by not reaching the divisional final, which will be played between Tipperary and Fr. Tom Burkes. The winners will qualify to meet Robert Emmets from San Francisco, who won the Western Division in their first year. Chicago’s Cuchulainn are back on the winning track, having easily regained the Central Division title. They are matched up against the runners up from Chicago, Harry Boland’s, in the other semi.
Only Boston and San Francisco are competing in the junior hurling championship. Current title holders Fr. Tom Burkes from Boston were favorites to regain the title but were eliminated via an objection in the Northeast Division following their semifinal win over Wexford. Tipperary are Wexford’s opponents in the divisional final. The winners will play San Francisco Robert Emmetts for the national title.
Women’s Senior Football
After many years of dominance, Philadelphia’s Emerald Eagles will not play in this year’s senior championship. After a late withdrawal, Chicago’s runnerup, St. Brigid’s, has agreed to fill the void and will play the Boston winners, Roscommon or Shamrocks. Perhaps, the best match of the championship will be in the other semifinal, between Chicago Erin’s Rovers, the 1998 winners, and current champions, San Francisco Fog City Harps.
Women’s Junior Football
Last year, the Roisin club from Orange County in the Southern California Division took the title with a 3-point win over St. Pat’s from Florida. Although it is rare for champions to retain the cup, Roisin could do it again. They play Boston’s Tir na Nog in the quarterfinal. The Emerald Eagles from Philadelphia, which includes some players from their great ’90s senior team, will be in the running as they are expected to account for Cleveland St. Anne in a quarterfinal clash. An interesting quarterfinal pairing is that between the Gael of Atlanta and Seattle.
Current champions, San Francisco Shamrocks, will be clear favorites to retain the title and should dispose of Chicago runner-up Limerick in the semifinal. The other semifinal, between Chicago champions, St. Mary’s, and Tir na Nog from Boston promises to be a fine match up and a great final is in the making.
Friday, Aug. 30
1:30 p.m., Ladies Junior Football, Seattle Gaels vs. Atlanta Gaels; 1:35 p.m., LJF, Detroit St. Anne’s vs. Philadelphia Emerald Eagles; 1:40 p.m., Men’s Junior “B” Football, Denver Gaels vs. Charlotte James Connolly; 3 p.m., MJBF, Detroit Wolfe Tones vs. L.A. Wild Geese; 3:10 p.m., LJF, Boston Tir na Nog vs. Orange County Roisin; 3:20 p.m., Men’s Junior “A” Football, Philadelphia Young Irelanders vs. Florida St. Pat’s; 4:30 p.m., MJAF, Chicago Padraig Pearse vs. Pittsburgh Celtics; 4:40 p.m., MJBF, Seattle Gaels vs. Oakland St. Brendan’s; 4:50 p.m., MJBF, Atlanta Gaels vs. Washington, D.C., Gaels.
10:00 a.m., Camogie, Chicago St. Mary’s vs. Boston Tir Na Nog; 10:20 a.m., LJF, Detroit or Philadelphia vs. San Francisco Saoirse; 11:10 a.m., Men’s Intermediate Football, Philadelphia Kevin Barry’s-Derry vs. San Jose St. Joe’s; 11:20 a.m., MJBF, Atlanta or Washington vs. Seattle or Oakland; 11:40 a.m., MJAF, Philadelphia or Florida vs. San Francisco Naomh Padraig or Son’s of Boru; noon, Ladies Senior Football, Boston Roscommon or Shamrocks vs. Chicago St. Brigid’s; 12:40 p.m., Men’s Senior Hurling, Boston Fr. Tom Burke’s or Tipperary vs. San Francisco Robert Emmetts; 1 p.m. LJF, Seattle or Atlanta vs. Boston or Orange County Roisin; 2 p.m., Men’s Senior Football, Boston McAnespies or Donegal vs. Philadelphia Donegal; 2:20 p.m., MJAF, Chicago or Pittsburgh vs. Boston Cork or Shannon Blues; 2:30 p.m., LSF, Chicago Erin’s Rovers vs. San Francisco Fog City Harps; 3:20 p.m., MSH, Chicago Cu Chulainns vs. Chicago Harry Bolands; 3:40 p.m., MIF, Boston Columcille’s or Kerry vs. San Diego Clan na Gael; 4 p.m., C, Chicago Limerick vs. San Francisco Shamrocks; 4:40 p.m., MSF, Chicago Wolfe Tones vs. San Francisco Ulster.
11 a.m., Camogie; 11:10 a.m., Men’s Intermediate Football; noon, Men’s Junior “B” Football; 12:20 p.m., Men’s Junior Football; 12:30 p.m., Youth 14 Football; 1:20 p.m., Junior Hurling; 1:40 p.m., Men’s Junior “A” Football; 1:50 p.m., Ladies Senior Football; 3:10 p.m., Men’s Senior Hurling; 4:30 p.m., Men’s Senior Football.