Mayo learn little but New York provides an education
The other provinces would benefit from an annual trip to New York
Normally a championship match is the occasion in itself, but last Sunday in New York the game was largely irrelevant. Mayo beat New York easily, that much was always expected, but there was far more to this weekend in both football and human terms than the action on the pitch.
What it represented first of all was a great gathering of the Mayo tribes from Boston, Washington, Chicago, Cleveland and a hundred other places in the United States and Canada where work has brought them.
In many ways too it signified the Mayo spirit. Frustrated beyond belief from constant defeats, but resilient and good-humoured in the face of prolonged adversity.
Of course there are many who feel that this annual hiding for New York in the Connacht championship is a bad and costly joke, and that is fine if you wish to just look at football in isolation from what it means to those who find themselves in this part of the world. Some forced, some by choice, some feeling abandoned by their own country, others searching for some of the opportunities presented.
Last weekend, in looking at the splendid efforts of the New York GAA over the weekend and the huge crowd which attended, it became very clear to me that New York retains a special role in the GAA. It is the only place outside the country where an All-Ireland has been played and there could be worse places to play a quarter-final in this or any other year.
Everyone knew what the result would be last Sunday, it was merely a matter of the score. New York were fit and game but spring came late in the Big Apple this year and the lack of preparatory matches was evident from early on. By the end, the Mayo forwards were waltzing through for scores, even if it did not satisfy some of their supporters who can be very critical of their team.
Yet after the match the players were mobbed by well-wishers and groups gathered around the players from their home clubs for autographs, photos and a chat about home. Most had already watched the All-Ireland under 21 final and league final in hurling – there seemed no need for Sky as they all appear to see everything that is going on, but maybe it is better not to kick that sleeping dog this week.
Mayo have been caught in the eye of the storm for the last few years which only an All-Ireland will calm, yet the only guarantee is that their support will still travel from all corners of the globe. Games are important but so is social connection and the GAA community are good at that.
Realistically, the next big match for Mayo is the All-Ireland quarter-final on the first weekend in August and training is probably geared for that. The only problem for them is running at the same speed on the treadmill will leave them farther behind as Dublin have moved on again.
Mayo need inspiration from somewhere and last Sunday was not the place to be judging anyone; good players in those sort of games generally keep out of trouble and wait for a bigger day to really get stuck in.
The sense of confidence from the New York GAA board over the weekend was very obvious too. Immediately they are setting about improving Gaelic Park with a $6million facelift. It is needed badly. Funds are being made available from the GAA in Ireland and some aid from Government sources, all of which is well deserved. But there will still be a big financial shortfall and they are happy to take on that burden of debt. In that way they are similar to most clubs in this country who continue to invest in the future – money is borrowed and paid back.
On top of that, in New York and many other places in the world, clubs are buying or leasing their own pitches. The same model of having your own field is being repeated in places where the grass may not be too green in the summer.
There was a time when I was playing that the GAA in New York ran like an independent republic and was not affiliated to the GAA in Ireland at all. It was the equivalent of Dodge City without the sheriff and it meant you could play there whatever way you liked. Suspensions did not carry and there was no such thing as being illegal. Betting was an integral part of the game and the weekend flight from Dublin could carry half a team.
Claims that some did not even know who they were playing for before they landed are a bit exaggerated, but only added to the mystique surrounding the place. Now normal rules apply and the GAA communities in every part of the city and beyond are thriving.
In many ways this reflects the 'can-do' attitude of many of those driving the GAA in the Big Apple. They are positive in outlook, willing to take risks and work hard. They have moved up the food chain in terms of jobs and play an important role in the commercial life of the city. It is good for the Irish visitors to see these people in action and it is an education in itself.
Of course they live in an environment with much greater opportunities, but attitudes are different too. The banks have moved on from their crisis of six or seven years ago while we still seek enquiries into things when everyone knows what happened. In every capitalist society the greed for profit must be watched over carefully by regulatory bodies. In our case that system failed – not the entrepreneurs. We hardly need a costly enquiry to tell us that.
So Gaelic Park in the Bronx last Sunday was buzzing. Families got together from all over the US and Ireland, young people moved around. Jobs were sourced, contacts made, accommodation secured.
Students and other players who intend to travel from Ireland for the summer were discussed. At the centre of all of this was a great majority from Mayo, but every single county was represented. If a championship match in New York facilitates this great melting pot of goodwill and fresh ideas, then Gaelic Park needs more games. Maybe New York should be in every province.
Sunday Indo Sport