Wednesday 21 March 2018

Dick Clerkin: Life is short so it’s hard to blame Sutcliffe and Co for heading Stateside to play ball

New York players, from left, Vinny Cadden, Peter Witherow, Danny Sutcliffe, David Cunnane and Eugene McVerry. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
New York players, from left, Vinny Cadden, Peter Witherow, Danny Sutcliffe, David Cunnane and Eugene McVerry. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

New York's footballers, in hosting Sligo, brought the curtain up on the 2017 championship last night and one of their headline acts was the inclusion of a former All-Star hurler in their half-forward line.

Danny Sutcliffe was once seen as the great Sky Blue hope of Dublin hurling - a skilful and accurate forward which they could build their attack around.

Only 25, that could still happen of course , but what has enticed him, and many more before him, across the Atlantic is a question well worth exploring.

With a Leinster minor football medal from 2009, a natural athlete like Danny won't look out of place on many Gaelic fields, regardless the size of the ball, but it's natural to ask why he has chosen Gaelic Park over Croke Park this summer?

Two years in the hurling wilderness, his original one-year study leave excuse has expired. Regardless of what Danny feels about the state of Dublin hurling at present, nobody, certainly me, could criticise him for choosing Fifth Avenue over Grafton Street for a year.

I can only speak for myself and from my own experience but the welcome you get from the GAA community in the States is special and having spent three memorable summers in Boston, I have never had anything but a positive disposition towards players heading away, for what is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Jetting off on my own as a green 19-year-old, I wasn't sure what to expect when I first 'headed to the States' in 2000. I played with the Wolfe Tones club, who were based in South Boston.

A tough, predominantly white, Irish-American district, 'Southie', as it was commonly known, had a chequered past, and in the 1970s and '80s was home to the notorious Irish mafia gang of James 'Whitey' Bulger.

Recalling my first training session at a local municipal park, I was fairly nervous. I had been brought out to play in midfield, and the fella I was likely to displace didn't take long to make his acquaintances.

'Howaya Dickie, I'm Joe Mooney and I'm from Meath,' he proudly proclaimed as he tried his level best to crush my hand with his Samson-like grip. Meath were top dogs back then. Monaghan were irrelevant.

We then proceeded to knock lumps out of each other in a training game, neither of us giving an inch. Having been warned about the lawlessness of football in the States I was keen to show that I wasn't one for standing back. Give me Darragh Ó Sé over Joe Mooney any day!

After a few days of torrid humidity acclimatisation, before my first game at the famous Canton Gaelic centre, I watched a hurling match between Tipperary and Galway.

Former Tipp great, and then man mountain, Paul Shelly, unmercifully pulled across a Galway defender's leg, snapping the hurl clean in two. Neither the Galway defender nor the referee blinked an eye. This was old-school country, I thought to myself. Thankfully, I survived to tell the tale.

Lured by the promise of free flights, accommodation, a well-paid summer job, and in many cases healthy 'travel expenses', Boston along with New York and other major cities have provided thousands of young ex-pats, with a lucrative summer outpost. Those summers effectively got me through college.

This Thursday I will be boarding a plane for my own weekend visit to the Big Apple, as a guest at the second annual Monaghan GAA fundraising golf classic (retirement certainly does have its perks).

In early July, I will be heading over again, when I will be joining a host of other retired inter-county stars for an All-Star exhibition match to mark the opening of the Rockland GAA centre. (It is worth pointing out at this stage how wonderful my wife Alison is.)

The GAA scene in the US is a living testament to everything that is great and warm about Irish sport and culture.

A comfort that welcomes young Irish travellers to what can otherwise be lonely urban jungles. Danny Sutcliffe, along with dozens of other top players, will no doubt enjoy what these cities have to offer this summer.

Those summers in Boston were some of my best days.

Enjoy it lads. Life is short, and to be lived.

Irish Independent

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