The association’s desire to remain with the project was thrown into serious doubt with a recent letter to the New York GAA stating they had considerable problems with the plan and indicating they might withdraw their support if changes could not be made to the agreement.
When the Irish-based association did not hear from the City they announced their intentions with a press release on Wednesday reiterating the concerns first laid out in the earlier letter.
Those problems were money and control. Croke Park felt that both the initial capital investment and annual rent were too high and they were also unhappy with leaving too much power in the hands of the Randalls Island Sports Group.
Monty Maloney first proposed this project back in 1998 when he was serving as the president of the New York GAA. Maloney eventually formed the RIGS corporation and it was RIGS that convinced the City to accept their request for proposal.
In the wake of the GAA’s announcement Maloney tried to maintain “some road for hope,” as he spoke to the Irish Echo, but his disappointment was palpable even through the telephone lines.
The RIGS President was clearly unhappy with the role played by both branches of the GAA in the evident demise of his dream. “We gave them an opportunity,” Maloney said, “a jewel in the sun, and they turned it down.”
In their press release, the GAA states that they will “immediately embark on identifying an alternative location for the development of a suitable stadium appropriate to the present and future needs of the GAA in the city.”
To this Maloney said only: “Good luck. They are not going to find it,” he adds somewhat wearily, “I looked for five years.”
New York GAA Chairman Seamus Dooley pronounced himself, “awfully disappointed,” calling this development, ” a big setback” and “a very sad day for the New York GAA.” Dooley also pointed out that “this is the third failure in the last 15 years,” naming Ferry Point Park and Briarcliff Manor as potential homes for the New York GAA that had gotten away.
Dooley told the Echo that he will invite the RIGS Board to Thursday night’s New York GAA Board of Officers meeting to discuss the situation. The chairman will then have the delegates vote the following Thursday on whether to continue the New York GAA’s participation, although he concedes, ” it is nearly impossible for us now to stay involved.”
For Dooley the Randall’s Island plan ” dragged on for far too long,” and Dooley added that it is his personal belief “that we have to stay with the GAA on this.”
Maloney told us that he had not heard from the city regarding the GAA’s decision and he vowed that “RIGS would continue to move forward.” Maloney added that “we have couple of options,” although he declined to discuss them at the time.
He may have been referring to rugby or soccer leagues that had previously expressed an interest in the project, but it is impossible to imagine a Gaelic Sports center in New York that does not prominently feature the New York GAA.
What Went Wrong?
For all the noble intentions and big dreams of its planners, the idea of a Gaelic Games Center on Randalls Island never took root with the New York Irish community. It was a project that many thought was simply too ambitious at a time when the Irish population in New York was contracting rather than expanding.
The first financial figures, in the $40 million range, frightened people who pointed to the declining attendance figures at Gaelic Park and asked themselves who is going to play at this beautiful facility, and who will be there to watch them?
Monty Maloney and his RIGS team set out to make their case that the New York Irish had to think outside the box, to think outside its Bronx/Yonkers, Queens axis. RIGS said, look to Manhattan, look to the New York City school system, who one Board member suggested would teach Gaelic games on these new fields, and look to the segment of the Irish community that wanted nothing to do with a Sunday afternoon in the Bronx.
Their message never got through and Maloney believes that the New York GAA’s tepid support for the project was partly responsible. “It wasn’t all of the officers; but it is unfortunate that certain individuals happened to be involved,” unfortunate for the whole Irish community,” he said.
There were times during this almost decade-long saga that it all seemed quite possible. The drawings and models promised so much and on one night at the Irish Consulate when New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benape dubbed Randalls Island “the Central Park of the 21st century with the GAA stadium its centerpiece,” optimism was high.
But money remained elusive. The Randalls Island Track and Field Stadium received a boost from financier Carl Ichan, and so Carl Ichan Stadium was built.
But no similarly deep pocketed Gael stepped forward and the plan stalled. When Goodwill Sports stepped forward promising millions, it all seemed too good to be true. It was, and Goodwill and their millions were soon out of the picture.
When GAA President Sean Kelly pledged $2 million it seemed only a matter of time until Randalls Island became a reality. Of course we know now how that turned out. The GAA became disenchanted and went from being the project’s savior to one of the catalysts of its demise.
Now the New York GAA will reassess. The association has just signed a five-year lease with Manhattan College to continue playing at Gaelic Park, and the search for a permanent home presumably is already underway. That search will likely lead north of the City, with Dooley mentioning Rockland and Westchester. Maloney wonders just how far north the New York GAA will have to go and asks, “who is going to go up there, they won’t even go to Gaelic Park?”