Bronx bomber back in the swing of things down in Gaelic Park
By John Riordan
I was never much of a hurler and abandoned the game as a 16-year-old, worn out from the summers of sorrow that went hand in hand with being a member of the worst underage Blackrock team in living memory.
After a gap of 16 years, I made my return with the Hoboken junior team last week. It might seem over-ambitious to pick up a hurley again after such a long gap and with such little talent (and I can hear Michael Moynihan laughing from all the way over here) but I did somehow manage to get two goals when brought on as a sub in the second half as our team of mostly ex-pats cruised to victory over Shannon Gaels.
The game was long won at that stage so I’m not placing huge stock in my contribution to the effort. I was just happy to be in that dressing room beforehand as hurleys and studs clunked off the cold concrete, our shelter from the heat outside. It was daunting to slowly realise how important this was to these players.
This was a standard of hurling which turned out to be a bit higher than I’d hoped when I was first browbeaten into joining by David Cosgrove, an extremely passionate New Jersey native whose Irish father instilled a love for the game in him. He is building something real and he has managed to get a lot of talented players to buy into his dream.
I realise how possibly primitive this sounds but there was a real thrill earlier that morning walking through my mainly Puerto Rican neighbourhood with a hurley and sliotar. It’s difficult to look different in Brooklyn where the battle for trendsetting is a contact sport.
Then after an hour-long train journey uptown during which fellow passengers eyed up my weapon suspiciously, I strolled underneath the elevated subway line as the midday sun opened up the pores of the Bronx, turned onto 241st street where Gaelic Park pops into view and was suddenly stopped by a lady and her teenage son. She wanted me to show him how to rise a sliotar and she insisted I use the tiny patch of grass by the parked cars from which a pathetic tree was sprouting sadly.
“I don’t want you to damage your stick.”
I assured her it didn’t matter to my humble new camán. I showed him a quick drill as the years of “Saturday Morning Skills” across Church Road flooded back. If you’re stationary, roll it on to the boss and flick your wrist, I told him. If you’re running on to it, scoop it up. But not like I just did it because that’s lazy. Bend the back.
“It’s the fastest field game in the world isn’t it?” she asked.
We’ve been saying it since we were young and impressionable and couldn’t believe our ears when first we heard it.
Hurling is the fastest game in the world? Field game? That means ice hockey is faster.
“Anything that resembles ice hockey is good for me,” the lady said as she walked off to get sun cream with her boy.
I don’t need reminding that the GAA is vital to the diaspora but it is always incredible to witness it first hand.
It’s GAA to the power of 10 over here, the good and the bad. There’s even a cranky old fella at the gate making sure everyone walking past the turnstile is that little bit more intimidated.
But he doesn’t matter because there are more important men and women for whom this game is a lifeline.
Like David Varley, a former Roscommon U21 hurler who was playing for the club his first and last time this summer before heading home to help out at the family farm for a few months.
And like big PJ Delaney, who recently left Ireland and only stopped playing three years ago because of a recurrent ankle injury. At half-time, he is practically bouncing on that rejuvenated leg, basking in his huge first half shoulder of an opponent who tried to knock him off his stride as he emerged out of the half-back line with the ball. It was one of those crunchers, fair and hard, all the more satisfying because the other fella was floored.
In the second half, he’s enjoying it even more, constantly running from deep and setting up score after score.
Afterwards, back in the dressing room, in the midst of all the back-slapping and banter, PJ suddenly shouts over to me with a huge grin on his face.
“I love this! I love hurling! I’m so glad I’m back playing.”
* firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: JohnWRiordanHome