The Monaghan delegation submitted the proposal and Seamus Dooley, chairman of the Monaghan football club, was thrilled with the outcome.
“This will help football in New York,” Dooley predicted. “Clubs were fed up with spending all that money every year.”
Dooley, also the vice president of the NYGAA, said he does not believe attendance will suffer from the lack of star power the weekenders provide.
The GAA’s new president, Liam Bermingham, shares Dooley’s enthusiasm and believes the crowds will come out for competitive matches.
“This move gives us a chance to build our own games,” he said.
Bermingham would like to see the money pumped into the games in New York rather than on importing players.
“Can you imagine the millions of dollars that have been spent on bringing players for the past 100 years?” he said. “What if that money had been spent differently?”
The Roscommon club voted against the measure. Delegate Terry Connaghton said he did so because the club’s ” numbers are small” and the weekenders augment them. Despite the no vote, Connaghton, a former NYGAA president, acknowledges the financial strain clubs have been under.
“It’s very costly bringing players out and it has become harder to raise money,” he said, adding that, unlike Bermingham and Dooley, he fears attendance at Gaelic Park will suffer.
“I hope it doesn’t reflect on our crowds, but I’m afraid it will, especially at playoff time,” he said.
Advocates of the new policy believe that it “levels the playing field,” as Bermingham puts it. Clubs will still be able to bring over players via the 60-day sanction rule. The 60-day sanction rule is designed primarily for students and anyone who wants to spend a summer working and playing football or hurling in New York.
A player on a 60-day sanction cannot play for his club in Ireland for the duration of the sanction and must reside in New York. This differs from the weekend sanctions, which allowed a player to play in New York and then fly home to play for his home county the following week. Some New York clubs racked up huge airline bills flying over two or three players, week in and week out.
Last season saw numerous players stopped by immigration authorities and teams have had to turn to elaborate and costly flight plans, routing their star attractions through London and other way stations.
For this year at least that is over. Teams will have six 60-day sanctions at their disposal and may draft as many as eight players from the Junior ranks. An amendment to select two of the eight from the New York Minor Board received broad support at Thursday’s convention but was tabled on a technicality.
It is hoped such a move would encourage young Irish Americans to continue playing the game as adults. The supply of talent making the leap to Senior football has slowed to a trickle in recent years. The Irish Americans who did attempt to make the leap were often the first to be dropped for the weekenders, so these moves should create a more welcoming atmosphere for developing players.
Whether this audacious step is successful will, of course, be answered over time. There have always been fans who ventured to Gaelic Park only to see the stars, particularly at playoff time. One supporter said, “They can put a padlock on Gaelic Park,” when he heard the news of the weekender ban. Supporters of the new rules believe that things had spiraled out of control financially and drastic measures were required.
“Give it a year, and I think we’ll reap the benefits,” Bermingham said.