Meet the stars (and stripes) of the future . . .
THE BIG Apple has been bitten by the Gaelic football bug.
A bus-load of 14-year-old girls and boys from New York took away a haul of gold medals and silverware at the finals of the Feile Peil na nOg in Portlaoise, Co Laois, yesterday.
Up to 4,000 teenagers descended on the midlands with their parents, coaches and mentors for the national festival of underage Gaelic football over the weekend.
GAA president Liam O'Neill predicts an explosion of interest in Gaelic football for girls in the coming years -- and if the swell in numbers participating in the New York club is anything to go by, the trend will also be seen abroad.
Mr O'Neill acknowledged that New York was "streets ahead" of Ireland when it came to organising juveniles, particularly girls, in the sport.
"Gaelic football will expand through the girls' game. It's easier for them to pick it up and more are playing the game, it's a more attractive game for them. In the next 12 months, we will see an expansion. We can learn a lot from New York. They have 700 children -- and 400 of them girls-- playing Gaelic football," he said.
New York manager Eoin McSweeney, who is originally from Cork, said the girls and boys had mastered the basics.
"We're promoting the games in the old GAA style that we learned in Ireland 40 years ago. We promote the simple stuff. The old GAA when teammates drive for two hours each way to a training session. That is commitment. Sometimes it's even hard to find a field to play in," he said. Mr McSweeney and his entourage from the US stayed with host families in Stradbally, Co Laois, and in Galway over the weekend.
"Old Ireland is not dead and gone. The hospitality we've received has shown that," he added.
John Flaherty, one of the coaches with Dublin club Kilmacud Crokes, said the "community spirit" was "outstanding". Players from his club stayed with host families around Co Offaly while parents booked out local hotels.
"It's not just about the football. The friends and relationships that have been made over the weekend is a big part of it. We've exchanged numbers and Facebook pages and everything. That's a huge part of it," he said.
Juvenile player with Kilmacud Crokes, Peter O'Reilly from Foxrock, said he "really enjoyed" his weekend, despite being knocked out in the semi-finals in O'Connor Park in Tullamore on Saturday.
Playing in the Co Offaly ground was a highlight for him, along with meeting new friends.
Oisin Bennett, the captain of division four side Killoe, from Co Longford, said his team were waiting "three months" but came out tops in their final yesterday. Feile chairman Peter O'Neill praised the efforts of volunteers who gave up their time to help over the weekend.
More than 76 teams took part in 268 matches in the Feile Peil na nOg 2012. The motto was "fun and friendship" and host clubs made sure their visitors experienced plenty of both.
An Offaly club, St Ciaran's of Ferbane, were crowned feile champions in the girls' division one, while Dublin side St Brigid's were the winners of the boys' division one final.
New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco, Hertfordshire, Yorkshire, Warwickshire, London, Lancashire, Gloustershire and Scotland all travelled to the Feile.
All the results