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New York GAA clubs facing player shortage

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Pierce O’Reilly

The Celtic Tiger in Ireland will get the blame, but is it fair? GAA clubs in the New York tri-state area, and indeed all over the United States, are feeling the annual player pinch — but this year it seems much worse.

The scarcity of GAA players in some clubs, from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to Boston and Buffalo, has become a major concern. Indeed, the siren song of Ireland’s booming economy is luring home emigrants in droves, many of whom have spent the last several years patrolling the playing pitches on Sunday afternoons in New York and elsewhere.

As in previous years, January and February marks the start of the GAA hunting season. Players are coaxed and cuddled. Offers of jobs and junkets are promised and often the copper’s kitty goes from prosperous to poor.

Make no mistake, good players are a requirement if a club hopes to be in the championship hunt. And this year, for many clubs, the New Year looks bleak.

The last decade was kind to the GAA enthusiasts. There was always enough cake to feed the hungry and often there was some left over. Today, however, the GAA pundit is in a dilemma. Players are no longer as plentiful, and for many, then, the future would seem to pose serious problems.

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Leitrim clubman Frank Brady isn’t afraid to address the problem.

Leitrim is among a number of New York clubs that don’t have the healthy player base of other years. "In the past, you’d have 30 or 40 guys earmarked for the upcoming championship. Today that figure is between 10 and 20 for many clubs".

"That said, most managers are over-pessimistic this time of year. The reality for all is simple: you just can’t win a championship without a strong home-based side."

Leitrim are not alone, however. At least six other clubs in New York are suffering from the reemergence of the Irish economy. It is possible that some will not have enough quality players to field a team this year.

Brady has statistics that he says clearly prove his point.

"We won the New York final in ’93 and at least seven of that side are now in Ireland. That’s a huge loss to any club. Since then, a few others have hung up their boots, so things are tight at the moment."

Leitrim officials are not the only ones in New York left scratching their heads after what many describe as one of the most successful seasons ever for the association in the Big Apple.

The Irish American club Celtics are also in bother. The club played seven games last year in the senior B grade and failed to acquire a solidarity point. Donie O’Sullivan, the manager, said he feels there are too many clubs in the New York leagues.

"Seventeen senior teams is way too much for here," he said. " I believe that there should be only one senior league and it should consist of 10 teams. Every year there is a backlog of games and often players drift away when games aren’t played regularly. It happened to us this year and I feel several other clubs are in the same boat."

Celtics will be playing in the junior grade next season however if their players aren’t allowed to be drafted up and down to the senior grade O’Sullivan is seriously concerned that it may result in the demise of the club. The rule reguarding player drafts states that a club must play at least one year in the junior grade before it’s players can be drafted.

"We’ve six or seven players good enough for any senior team however if they aren’t allowed to play at the top level then our club will suffer".

The New York GAA’s public relations officer, John Moore, who was also the manager of Westmeath footballers during the year, is adamant that the New York association has never been in better shape.

"Our international games against Mayo and Galway over the past two years have given the game here a much improved profile," he said. " People now realize that we take things very seriously here in the Big Apple. If Roscommon footballers and Down hurlers arrive later in the New Year, then it will boost the games even further."

Despite his enthusiasm, Moore, as Westmeath’s manager, also experienced the player drought himself in the past.

"Every club in New York experiences difficulties at different stages," he said. "If they weather the storm, most of them survive to see it through and often those clubs get stronger."

New York GAA has had an eventful year. A respectable performance against 1998 All-Ireland winners Galway received accolades from many of the cold-faced critics. It appears that a coordinated and cooperating GAA board has made major inroads into acquiring a new home for the GAA in the city. For many, however, the combined effort is arriving way too late. Boston has stolen the show in regards to facilities, and Chicago has been boosting about their pod for many years now. Most observers agree that the New York GAA is facing some critical decisions in 2001.

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