New York GAA sees gains in underage development

By Áine Hourican

 

The development of underage Gaelic games within New York City is an exciting point of growth for the stateside Irish community. A volunteer-based organisation that promotes Irish heritage and culture, the GAA in New York is an outlet for both Irish natives and Irish-American children to connect with their heritage.

 

New York Games Promotion Officer Cian O’Dea plays a critical role in the progression of underage games within The Big Apple. Speaking on encouraging growth and development from a young age, Cian told GAA.ie that “New York is seeing an increase in demand for Gaelic games within the Big City.”

Fintan McGourty of New York celebrates after his side won the 2022 Division 4 Plate Final during the John West Féile na nGael National Camogie and Hurling Finals at Boardsmill GAA Club in Meath. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile.

Currently, 2,500 boys are registered between underage hurling and football, and 500 girls are registered between camogie and ladies’ Gaelic football.

The Clare-man noted that New York is seeing an upward trend in underage players within the New York Metropolitan area, with players involved with clubs stretching across the five boroughs, Yonkers, Rockland County, and beyond.

 

A unique aspect of facilitating underage teams within the United States is the vast amount of Irish-American children who are keen to play the sport of their parents’ heritage. As opposed to coaching in Ireland where the GAA is the country’s national sport, children within the U.S. are committed to several other sports alongside GAA.

“The GAA in New York is unique,” says O’Dea. “Hurling, Gaelic football, or camogie may not be the children’s primary sport, but they continue to come to practice because they want to represent their heritage.

 

“Some of the players are involved in several other sports outside of the GAA, such as basketball or baseball. They could drop GAA and commit to their other sports, yet they consistently come to training because they want to represent the Irish Americans living in New York.”

New York GAA clubs put a strong emphasis on developing their nursery teams.

The New York college team recently travelled to Ireland in February. Cian told GAA.ie that he asked each player why they wanted to be part of the team, the majority of the players said that they made lifelong friends, and are proud to be representing the Irish community living in New York City.

 

Currently, there are 13 underage teams registered in New York City, one of which was formed this year. To target players from a young age, a large emphasis is placed on nursery teams as they transition up the ladder.

 

Nodding to the parents and coaches who play a critical role in developing underage games, Cian noted that this year alone, over 60 coaches registered for the Introduction to Gaelic Games course, a nine-hour course held over three sessions.

Over 60 coaches registered for the Introduction to Gaelic Games course in New York this year.

Continuing to make their way up the coaching ladder, over 50 coaches completed the Award 1 course, a 19-hour course completed over six days. The volunteers who dedicate their time to developing Gaelic games within the City have become the backbone of New York’s GAA future stars.

 

Maintaining the GAA motto “Where we all belong”, the New York Minor Board is committed to ensuring that there is a team available for every skill level. The 2024 New York Féile trials wrapped up with an outstanding number of players keen to secure a place on the panels. Between hurling, men’s football, women’s football, and camogie, four teams will travel to Ireland this summer to represent New York in the 2024 Féile competition.

 

This will be the first time a New York camogie team will participate at this level, showcasing the extraordinary dedication that has gone into the development of this sport in recent years.

The New York squad after their victory in the Division one cup final at the John West Féile Peile na nÓg Finals 2023 at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Bekan, Mayo. Photo by Stephen Marken/Sportsfile.

Each team is restricted to a maximum of twenty-four players per panel, meaning not every player will secure a place. Nonetheless, those who do not secure a place on this year’s panels will be formed into a development squad.

 

“My coaching philosophy is that once you start, you will always be welcome,” says O’Dea. “There will always be a level available for each player, whether that is recreationally or senior, and that’s what makes the GAA special. Everyone is welcome.”

 

Despite the current 3,000 underage players and many registered coaches, the GAA in New York has faced challenges with scheduling training and games due to a lack of facilities. Though the community has struggled with this obstacle for several years, the barrier has been lifted by the green light to build a permanent base for underage games: the Redmond Park Redevelopment Project.

 

The residence will be the first-ever permanent home for underage GAA within the greater New York Metropolitan area. A historic milestone in the development of underage games within New York, the $3 million (€2.8 million) project will permit New York GAA to host local events and tournaments for underage players.

 

Creating a home-based environment for children within the Big Apple, the Redmond Park Redevelopment Project will allow upcoming players to develop their skills and continue to deepen their connection with the GAA as they prepare to transition from juvenile players to senior players.

An artist's impression of what the redeveloped Redmond Park will look like.

Fit for this fast-growing community, the Project is set to include a full-size pitch, two practice fields, a walking trail, an outdoor gym, a playground, and, ample parking. Full lighting will permit both practices and games to occur safely and effectively at evening times.

The state-of-the-art facilities will permit New York GAA to host tournaments and games for all underage players. Leaving a lasting legacy for the development of underage Gaelic games in New York, Redmond Park will be hosting games from April 2024.

“With the development of Redmond Park, the youth and children in New York will have a place they can call home,” says O’Dea. “The new pitches will allow for more games, more initiatives, and more playing time for all players, which will increase playing numbers and promote both the development and progression of Gaelic Games in New York.”

The GAA promotes lifelong participation and community spirit. The organisation continues to aid both immigrants and Irish-American’s in finding comfort and grounding in New York, all while staying connected to their heritage.

Through the progression of New York GAA’s recent strides in developing their underage programs, the community will allow upcoming players to carry out the sport of their culture, and progress in the development of the Gaelic Athletic Association.

 

Originally published on the GAA website – March 25, 2024.

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