Kerry had run the table and were odds-on favorites to claim the 2004 honors. But Cavan had reason to believe, as they seemed to be peaking at just the right time, as evidenced by a thorough dismantling of Clare in the semifinal. An exciting Senior Football Final was on the cards, but storm clouds were gathering.
Cavan had requested a postponement after the death of a young Cavan man who was close to the team. On the Wednesday evening before the scheduled match, the New York GAA denied that request and said the match would have to be played. Or would it?
A scheduling quirk saw both the SFA and the JFA Finals scheduled for the same afternoon, with several players slated to go in both matches. Cavan were more seriously affected by the scheduling snafu, with several key players togging out in the Junior match.
The rumor mill was buzzing with the news that Cavan would refuse to field. Incredibly, the Senior Hurling Final between Connecticut and Limerick was also in jeopardy of being cancelled. Tipperary, defeated by Limerick in the semifinal, had filed a protest, disputing Limerick’s identification cards.
Tipperary’s objection was actually granted on the Thursday night before the match, but it was withdrawn when Limerick countered with an objection of their own. So that was the end of it, right? Wrong. Just before match time, Connecticut objected to Limerick player Jonathan Deere. Limerick dug in their heels, angrily insisting that they had followed all proper procedures. The immediate result was a tense stalemate. Eventually, and after much discussion, Limerick agreed to go ahead, albeit without Deere.
A close match turned Connecticut’s way when Limerick center halfback Shane McDermott, already playing on a yellow card, was shown the line after the halftime buzzer for a rash pull of his hurl. Connecticut wore down 12-man Limerick in the second half and wet on to secure their first-ever New York Senior Hurling title.
Next up was the Senior Football Final, but it was not to be. At halftime of the JFA Final, New York GAA President Liam Bermingham received official word from the Cavan club that they would not play.
Before the result could go into the record books, however, protocol required that Kerry not only take the field, but they also had to go through the charade of scoring a point. And so the crowd were treated to the following comical sight.
Referee Tommy Fahy threw in the ball between Kerry and, well, no one. Kerry midfielder John Golden received the ball and loped unmolested through what should have been the heart of the Cavan defense. Golden then flipped to Dave McSweeney, who punched over the bar to make it all official.
This little pantomime incensed much of the crowd, including a contingent of Cavan players, supporters, and officials. Kerry were presented with the Cup in subdued ceremony and then all hell broke loose. Punches were thrown, kicks were landed on a NYGAA officer, and nurse Theresa Crowe was inadvertently coldcocked.
The NYGAA responded by suspending the lead combatants for 96 weeks, fining the Cavan club $6,000, and suspending several Cavan officials. For Cavan, it could have been worse. If the Association had followed its own rules, the Breffni club would have been banned for two years. Although the rule is clear, there was no hue and cry as most interested parties felt that the Association could ill afford to lose a solid club like Cavan.
Neither did the Senior Football B final pass without controversy. Fierce rivals Mayo and Offaly went toe to toe for 70 passionate, tension-filled minutes. Robert Moran gave Mayo their first lead, in the 67th minute, with a tremendous 55-yard free. But this match was far from over. Offaly substitute Bobby Rogers looked like the hero when he fisted to the Mayo net, but for the second time in the half, referee John Fitzpatrick waved off the Offaly goal. But Mayo could not celebrate yet.
Offaly veteran Sean Nolan was fouled deep in Mayo territory. Jason Kelly blasted the free into a congested Mayo goalmouth. If the ball crossed the goal line, the Senior B title was Offaly’s. If not, Mayo would be champs. Mayo keeper Kieran Naughton emerged from the crowd with the ball, and the umpire’s green flag was not raised. Mayo celebrated, Offaly protested vehemently, and the championship went to the Westerners.
St. Raymond’s earned their place in the Junior A division when they topped Cavan for the Junior Football B title. Man of the Match C.J. Doherty led a balanced team effort as the Saints clinched for their first time since 1977.
The Junior Hurling championship was a non-starter with only Tipperary prepared to field a team. The Junior Hurling competition, the Brendan Keane Cup, went off in fits and starts with the final getting pushed back to April 2005.
On the international scene, a 3-28 to 1-8 hiding at the hands of Mayo in the first round of the Connaght Championship called into question the very notion of New York’s continued participation in the championship. The locals were run off their home pitch, although Mayo’s subsequent run to the All-Ireland final took a small bit of the sting off New York’s loss. The hurlers did better, but poor shooting by the home side allowed Down to get out of town with a somewhat flattering 1-19 to 1-9 victory.
On the last Sunday of the season, and with the SFA Final debacle still on everyone’s lips, the New York Senior footballers temporarily parted the gloom with a rousing FBD League Cup victory over Sligo. Westmeath man P.J. Ward was the star, scoring 1-7, including a towering 50-yard free that gave New York the victory. But Manager Pat Scanlon was the architect, cutting the deadwood from the side that succumbed so meekly to Mayo, and building a younger, hungrier side.
No, it wasn’t the championship, but it was a badly needed tonic for New York Gaels. 2004 also saw the inaugural InterContinental GAA Youth Championship. Despite torrential rains, close to 1,000 young Gaelic footballers from the United States and Canada descended on the SUNY Purchase campus for a weekend of matches in July. Tenacious volunteers from the New York Minor Board worked for hours on end to get games played despite losing several fields to the weather.
GAA President Sean Kelly took it all in and pronounced himself impressed. The enthusiasm and skill of the young players augers well for the future of the games in New York and the U.S., but the challenge remains for the New York Minor Board and the New York GAA to work together to translate the promise of youth into productive Senior footballers.
Of course, one subject has loomed large over all other New York GAA matters this year and that is the plan to build a headquarters on Randalls Island. Deadlines came and went as hope for the ambitious plan rose — and fell and rose again. August saw a dramatic new RIGS plan featuring an covered stadium that would turn the project into a 365-day, 24-hour facility.
When New York City set a seemingly final deadline of Dec. 31, the clock was ticking in earnest. The project appeared to be foundering until the GAA stepped up in a big way with a $2 million grant. The parent organization had been increasingly supportive of the project and sent the team of Peter Quinn, the leading force behind the Croke Park redevelopment, and Tony Hanahoe, prominent solicitor and former Dublin football star. Quinn and Hanahoe were impressed with the project and recommended a $1 million grant to the GAA Central Council. GAA President Sean Kelly recommended doubling that amount and the body agreed.
With the year ending and the deadline upon us, the outcome of the RIGS project will either launch the New York GAA into a brave future or condemn it to muddle along as is.