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Farrell: GAA's American dream may see elite Irish game played on other side of the pond

IF an All-Ireland final could be transported all the way to the Polo Grounds back in 1947, why can't a major competitive GAA match involving two Irish teams be brought back to New York or some other US metropolis in the next few years?

That is just one possible outcome of the GAA's latest attempt to woo America and especially its Irish diaspora on this year's All Stars football tour to the Big Apple.

As matters stand, the annual highlight of New York's GAA calendar comes when their footballers host a Connacht SFC clash (usually of the lopsided variety) every May.

But Croke Park and their partners in the Gaelic Players Association are exploring bigger and braver ways to 'conquer America'.

Such plans are only at an embryonic stage but they could, in theory, involve two high-profile counties playing a National League clash on the far side of the Atlantic.

Such initiatives could work wonders for marketing the GAA brand Stateside.

As GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell pointed out at a New York press briefing, there are some 40 million Irish-Americans and that constitutes a huge untapped TV market for watching football or hurling matches from 'home'.

Staging the occasional big game in the States would also be a massive boost for the player body's ambitious fundraising drive here, exemplified by last night's inaugural staging of the GPA Ireland-US Gaelic Heritage Awards.

"In terms of helping our cause over here, that (bringing over a match) would be phenomenal," said Farrell.

"It creates more awareness, increases the profile.

"I know the GAA are very keen to explore this avenue because the GAA over here play a very important role as an outlet for first-generation Irish.

"But we believe there's a huge untapped potential outside of that," stressed Farrell. "Can we get different individuals engaged? Can we bring the games into more homes across America? It's estimated that there's 40 million individuals in this country of Irish extraction."

Farrell pointed out that AFL Aussie Rules games are broadcast in the US on a weekly basis, attracting seven million viewers. GAA figures "don't come next nor near that, and yet the number of indigenous Aussies in this country doesn't compare to the Irish-American community".

As for what matches could be transported to America, the GPA chief suggested "moving away from the model of bringing a game out and trying to attract a crowd.

"Maybe bring the game to where there's going to be a huge crowd of Irish people for whatever reason - a festival, opportunities with Notre Dame (the American Football college's team) and other possible collaborations."

He cautioned: "I think there'd be a lot of phases to go through to bring a full-blooded competitive game here. It would be a big ask, but it's not that it couldn't be done when you consider the game that was played at the Polo Grounds here and that pioneering spirit: Paddy Bawn Brosnan getting on a boat to play in an All-Ireland final."

The GPA's initial Stateside drive has centred on an ambitious fundraiser for its Player Development Programme, embracing career, education, health and well-being, life-skills and other support services for its 2,500 members.

At present, the GPA can support this programme with funding to the tune of US$800 (€625) per member; long term it wants to raise this to $2,000 (€1,565) per member.

Tables at last night's Heritage Awards gala in the Marriott Marquis - where All Star footballers mingled with prominent Irish-Americans among the 420 guests - cost anything from $10,000 (¤7,800) to $25,000 (¤19,500).

The GPA plans to make this an annual event and while it has not put a precise figure on what it hopes to raise, you are potentially looking at a six-figure net profit.


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