Wednesday 23 October 2019

Joe Brolly: 'GPA's million-dollar dinners are draining funding from US clubs who need it more'

‘Westput Setanta currently need just over one million dollars to develop their own pitches and facilities’
‘Westput Setanta currently need just over one million dollars to develop their own pitches and facilities’
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

The Sunday Game team was reunited last weekend in New York, probably for the last time. Our studio was on stage in the third floor ballroom at the fabled Rosie O'Grady's in Times Square, with Michael Lyster at the helm.

The occasion was a fundraiser to regenerate Gaelic Park in the Bronx, the home of Gaelic games in New York. What a superb, hilarious occasion.

Colm O'Rourke told a funny story about Frankie Dwyer from Leitrim, now New York, who has backed the Leitrim team out there for 40 years. Frankie had flown two county stars over to play in the championship, and to ensure they took things seriously, Frankie put them up in his own house where he could keep an eye on them. The day before the big game, Frankie got wind that the two boys had arranged a double date with two girls that night.

They were going to pretend to go to bed, then sneak out of the house and hit the town. That night around 10pm, the lads duly said their night nights and went into their room, turned the light off and waited for their moment.

Frankie, who was at the function in Rosie's, takes up the story

"They went through the whole pantomime of getting ready for bed and saying good night. As soon as the lights were off, I opened the door and crawled into the room on my hands and knees. Luckily, their clothes were sitting on top of their suitcases. Before they knew what was happening I had the clothes and suitcases and was out of the room. 'Sleep well lads,' I shouted, as I closed the door after me. 'You old bastard,' one of them shouted. They got their clothes back the next morning."

All the stalwarts of New York GAA were there, the tycoons who built New York and feed and water it. Faye Devlin from Pomeroy, Frankie, Eugene Rooney from Mayo, John Breslin from Meath, Mike Carthy from Leitrim, and so on and so forth. Tim O'Leary, a cockney boy whose people hail from Mayo and is besotted by all things Mayo, was the star of the show. Everything is red and green. Even his designer sunglasses. He is a famous trader in interest rates on all the big exchanges. He showed me a photo of his traders, all over 6' 5" so they can easily make and take their orders in the bear pit of the trading floor. His traders all wear bright red and green Mayo colours, a sort of gaudy patchwork. Because of this, they are nicknamed 'Santa's Little Helpers'. Over $500,000 was raised at the event, with Pat Spillane in the best form of his life, telling a string of hilarious anecdotes.

When O'Rourke played for Leitrim out there, they won the championship. Hardly surprising, given their roster: O'Rourke, Brian Mullins, Kevin Moran, Gerry McEntee and so on. Their opponents in that final 40 years ago were Tyrone, captained by one Frank McGuigan senior.

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What a history Gaelic Park has. Shortly after we won the All-Ireland, Fergal McCusker and I went out to play for Tyrone in the New York semi-final. It was a big deal, as the last time they had qualified for the final was when McGuigan was in his pomp. We were met at the airport by a delegation from the club, headed by Seán O'Neill from Kilrea, a legend in the city. To our surprise, we were brought straight to a training session at Van Cortlandt Park to meet the team. From there, we were brought to the bar where O'Neill said we would be "taking it easy tonight boys". Ten bottles of beer later, he called it a day and we went back to Seán's for the night.

We might have been forgiven for thinking none of this was terribly serious. In the changing room beforehand, McCusker and myself sat together, relaxed and jovial. Two crates of chilled beer had been brought in and left on the floor for after the game. Suddenly, Paddy Carney from Dingle, a terrific specimen who looked like a WWE wrestler, all bulging biceps and permed blond hair, picked me out. "Do ye think this is a f***ing joke Derry man?" "No Paddy." "It's not a f***ing joke, is it?" "No Paddy". "Are ye coming out here to have a f***ing laugh at our expense?" He proceeded to lift me up against the wall by the throat, my feet dangling off the ground. I can still feel his power. "It's not a f**ing joke Derryman," he said, before setting me down, then smashing his false teeth on the floor. He then bellowed something that has never passed a Kerryman's lips before or since, "Let's f*****g do it for Cheeeroin (Tyrone)" before leading the team onto Gaelic Park like the paras entering Coalisland.

Just at the throw in, Big Audie Hamilton pole-axed their full-back and the war commenced. No one was sent off, and I spent much of the game chatting to the opposing goalie as each new row broke out. I scored a goal to clinch it near the end, and I can assure you the thought of blowing kisses did not cross my mind. Instead, I tiptoed back to my position with an apologetic air.

Afterwards in the bar, the boys were drinking shots like Cossacks. I was standing with a chap from Park, when he said, "Duck Joe." Just in time, as the lads emptied their shots and smashed a volley of glasses against the wall of the bar.

The day after the night in Rosie's, I was upstate New York in Puttnam county to take a coaching the coaches day at the amazing Westput Setanta club. Fifty kids under 12, all American. I met the coaches beforehand at the rented indoor 4G pitch and began setting up the session. "You'll be surprised at their ability Joe," said Conor Healy, a native of Charlestown in Mayo. He wasn't joking. I quickly saw why New York were the Féile 'A' All-Ireland boys champions in 2017 and why their 2018 team beat a series of top Irish clubs, including Kilmacud Crokes. Fantastic skill levels, with the girls outshining the boys. Afterwards, we went to the local Irish bar, where the kids were fed pizza, and chicken nuggets and chips and the adults were having a pint. You could have been in Ireland. I was driven back to the city that night with the promise I would return for another session next year.

The work of this club and many others like them deserves far better from the GAA. I spent a lot of time chatting with the committee and the parents. Junkets out there for All Stars and GPA fundraisers are useless at promoting the game, and the GPA in particular are depriving local clubs of crucial funding, since they bring a glamour and professionalism to their money grabbing which is entirely false, but which works, since it massages the egos of the wealthy, philanthropic Irish Americans whom these same clubs rely on for their survival.

The GPA's million-dollar dinners where they flatter Irish American tycoons, awarding them 'Irishman of the year' and other such bullshit is an industry that would be stopped immediately if the GAA hierarchy had a sliver of courage or a sliver of idealism.

Their most recent fundraiser was 'The CEO Champions Luncheon' in Boston a few weeks ago, where the guest of honour was David Torchiana, President and CEO of Partners Healthcare Systems. Their Gala US dinners - described as "The Ireland-US Gaelic Heritage Awards" honour people like Mike Brewster, MD of Credit Suisse, or CEOs of vast financial conglomerates.

These are described (who writes this bullshit?) as "major events designed to celebrate and acknowledge the deep historical and cultural ties between the two countries, recognising a shared ancestry of which Ireland's unique Gaelic sporting heritage is an intrinsic part," and "recognise the significant contribution of the GPA to Irish society." A significant contribution to themselves more like, by a tiny unrepresentative professional body that has values which are more in common with a bank than the GAA. Funny, they never honour poor Irish Americans.

This stuff is the polar opposite of the GAA ethos, peddling the entirely false notion that the GPA are sharing the journey with the GAA family, representing and inspiring us. Instead, the GPA - whose express purpose is narrow self-interest - benefit no one but themselves. They are nothing more than self-serving capitalists, draining funds from where they are most needed, enriching the few at the expense of the many.

As if draining over €6 million a year from central GAA coffers isn't bad enough, they are draining further millions for their vague purposes from the beleaguered Irish American GAA community. The GPA is a fundraising organisation with nothing in common with the wider GAA. Their activities abroad are unrestrained and unchecked. I have seen this for myself and they are leaving a bad smell in genuine Irish American GAA communities.

Westput Setanta currently need just over one million dollars to develop their own pitches and facilities. But for their 100 juveniles and their 50 families this will require a massive effort. That's the equivalent of just one GPA Gala dinner. But the good GAA folk of Puttnam county know they will have to do it all alone.

So they will drive their kids to training, coach them three days a week, take them all over this vast state and country for games, teach them the value of community and togetherness, while working long hours in construction and hospitals and with the fire service and so on to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, the GPA will continue to mine these vital dollars using flattery, propaganda, and the myth of an Ireland that is as real as the Quiet Man, while the GAA will continue to support American Gaels with All Star junkets where there are more journalists than players.

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