GAA reveals its American dream

The GAA hope to see their overseas playing membership outnumber the figure within Ireland by 20 years’ time.

President Liam O’Neill revealed the aspiration speaking at Thursday evening’s GPA Irish-American Heritage fundraising awards dinner in Times Square, New York, which feted former Coca-Cola president Donald Keough.

It’s estimated more than 500,000 people participating in Gaelic games in Ireland at the moment. The US has become a primary focus of the organisation and Croke Park figures were yesterday involved in a series of meetings with US-based GAA officials.

Prior to the event, GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell spoke about the GAA’s desire to expand Gaelic games in the US.

O’Neill is on record as stating the GAA’s next round of international broadcasting rights are particularly important to the association.

After the Irish Examiner’s story about the possibility of the GAA bringing a season game to the US, GPA communications manager Sean Potts said they would love to be a part of a major push to promote Gaelic games on Stateside.

“It would be great to see competitive games played here,” he said.

“It would also be great to see the games aired regularly on television. The seven million viewership of AFL in the US stands out.”

Speaking at the dinner, Farrell underlined the significance of Gaelic games being exposed to a wider audience abroad.

“We know our games and the GAA are of incredible cultural and social importance to our country but we also know that Gaelic football and hurling rank alongside the best sports in the world.

“And it is imperative for our future development that people get to see the true worth of our players and begin to understand the extraordinary standards they achieve as amateur players.”

While it will be a number of weeks before the GPA realise what was raised from Thursday evening’s dinner, Potts said the official players body were delighted with how it went.

“It was about taking what we’re doing in the States to a different level, elevating our status and telling our story to a wider audience but also to a more influential audience.

“From that respect, the support and the feedback we’ve received has been very positive. It bodes well for what we want to do here.

“They like what the players do, they like what we do. They’re interested in learning more about it and we’ll take it from here.”

After being introduced by sponsor, Teneo chief executive and former Irish Examiner journalist Declan Kelly, Thursday’s honouree Keough paid tribute to inter-county Gaelic players.

“Every week during the season, they perform the greatest level of athletic achievement,” said Ohio-born Keough, who also received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad on Thursday.

Farrell added: “We set up a US advisory board a year ago and they have done incredible work in opening doors for us and helping us to tell our story to potential supporters.

“There are many common traits between sport and business and we wanted to highlight to the Irish-American business community how we can help county players to realise their potential off the field as well as on it.

“People like Don Keough and Declan Kelly are inspirational figures and it is truly humbling to have them support our efforts. They have phenomenal respect for Ireland, for Gaelic games and for players.”

O’Neill, who attended along with GAA director general Páraic Duffy and other GAA officials from New York, added his support for the GPA’s activity in the US.

“Our relationship with the GPA has reached new levels in recent years and this event provided us with tangible evidence of the vision and role they have in the development of our players and fundraising activity to assist them in realising that goal.

“Our players play a vital role in the Association — on a number of different fronts — and our support of them through our relationship with the GPA is a tacit acknowledgement of this. The GPA’s hard work has made this event possible and the occasion was a fitting tribute to Don Keough.”

Other contributors to the night included Christine Quinn, Speaker of the House in New York’s City Council who spoke of the importance of Gaelic games to the Irish community in the city its suburbs.

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