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Friday 19 September 2014

The time Cavan and Kerry played a part in NYC's sporting history

Hugh O'Flaherty

Published 03/08/2013 | 17:00

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Cavan v Kerry in the Polo Grounds, New York, in 1947
Cavan v Kerry in the Polo Grounds, New York, in 1947

Despite all the All-Irelands that Kerry has won (36), I often get the sense that the county is more famous for those that it lost.

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The one that is etched in everyone's memory – at least in every old-timer's memory – is the Cavan/Kerry All-Ireland played in the Polo Grounds, New York, in 1947.

As the two teams meet again tomorrow, younger readers might wonder how an All-Ireland came to be played outside the jurisdiction?

Many have thought that it was done as a gesture to commemorate the anniversary of the Famine of 1847. While that featured in discussions the real impetus came from the New York GAA board who were alarmed at the decline in interest in Gaelic games at the conclusion of World War II. The new generation Irish were more interested in baseball and American football.

It was felt that if a really glamorous event could be staged in New York it would revive interest in football and hurling. Canon Hamilton was one of the chief protagonists for the event.

While there was some opposition to the move, the 1947 Easter Congress approved the motion that the game should be played in New York. This left a short time frame to get things organised at the New York end. So Padraig O Caoimh, the GAA secretary, spent some months in New York literally preparing the ground.

For the 1947 series an extra incentive was on offer: the winning of the Sam Maguire as well as a trip to the Big Apple. Such a trip was a huge prize back then.

Kerry (reigning champions) and Cavan emerged as finalists. The teams and mentors travelled out by boat and plane. Mayor of New York, Mayo-born Bill O'Dwyer, greeted the teams and threw in the ball to start the match.

Kerry at first appeared to be running away with the game, even with some goals disallowed. But then Cavan asserted themselves and ran out worthy winners. They proved it was no flash in the pan because they retained the title the following year.

Micheal O Hehir's commentary is remembered for his plea to the service provider to extend the time allowed so that those at home could hear the final minutes.

I brought all this to mind when on a recent visit to New York I was leafing through an unusual guide – 'Secret New York by TM Rives' – where there is reference to the Brush stairway and the old Polo Grounds. The article recounts: "An iron stairway on Coogan's Bluff once looked over the New York Giants baseball field, the Polo Grounds. Hidden behind teetering fences, half-buried in dead leaves, and leading nowhere, the Brush stairway speaks clearly as a gravestone: Manhattan baseball is long gone."

This bluff was a favourite place to watch a free game until the grounds were demolished in 1964. No doubt many who could not gain entry to the ground in 1947 watched from there too.

So I journeyed out to see the place which is at 158 West Street and Edgecombe Avenue. Since the article in the guide was written, the city has begun the task of reconstructing the John T. Brush stairway. A notice at the site recounts that the stairway was presented to the city by the New York Giants in memory of their founder, John T Brush (1845-1917). The stairway will again connect the bluff to what was once the Polo Grounds: home to the Yankees, the Mets as well as the Giants baseball teams and the American football teams, New York Giants and Jets. When the project is rededicated it would be good if it is remembered that the only extra-territorial All-Ireland was played here.

As far as I know only two players survive from that stirring contest: Frank O'Keeffe and Mick Finucane, both Kerry.

I should declare another personal interest in the match: my father-in-law, Jack Brennan, of Sligo, was one of the umpires on the day. I was always too diplomatic to mention the matter of the disallowed goals!

Hugh O'Flaherty is a former President of the Kerry Association in Dublin

Irish Independent

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