Cha: All-Irelands more ‘Irish’ for Shannon Gaels than St Patrick's Day

By Peter McNamara

Jarlath Connaughton, more affectionately known as ‘Cha’, moved to Queens, New York, in 1983.

And like so many others around the globe presently, he is one of a number of Gaels in the city that “never quietens or stops” spreading the Gaelic games ‘gospel’.

On Sunday, however, Cha, who got his nickname because of an indirect connection with well-known Leeside characters ‘Cha and Miah’, and his son Justin will be in Croke Park decked out in the maroon and white of Galway.

The pair touch down on Irish soil on Friday night in advance of what Connaughton terms “the greatest day of them all, All-Ireland hurling final-day” in the hope Galway land the Liam McCarthy Cup for the first time since 1988.

Originally from Williamstown in the western county, Cha is now immersed in the development of Shannon Gaels GAA club in New York.

However, he returns year on year to support the Tribesmen at headquarters in both codes.

Galway manager Cyril Farrell is held shoulder high by supporters after Galway's victory over Tipperary in 1988's All-Ireland hurling final.

“Jees, I’m over and back any time Galway are in Croke Park,” Connaughton says. “Hurling and football are everything to us.

“It’s funny I’ve always felt even more ‘Galway’ here than when I’m back in Ireland. It’s as if you appreciate your background even more when you’re living elsewhere and I’m sure there are many Irish people all over the world that think along the same lines.

“I know people tend to think of that as an old cliché but you get yourself to Shannon Gaels club on Sunday and you’ll know exactly what I mean as regards that feeling of ‘Irishness’.

“It’s a genuine comment.”

Shannon Gaels was established back in 2002 and the strides it has made ever since are remarkable.

Yet, their evolution was slow-burning in the earlier days.

Connaughton, an underage coach in the club, recalls how seven years ago he and others ventured away to compete in games in Chicago only to travel with five players.

Still, today the numbers involved are excellent with 600-plus members and 10-plus teams, male and female.

Shannon Gaels on Tour.

“Five players made the trip to Chicago in 2008 for a tournament and now there are 600-odd Shannon Gaels members.

“We are very proud of the impact we are making in the community here in Queens.

“The desire to develop further though is massive.

“We are currently working on a new pitch in Queens and the numbers of kids eager to play hurling and football at all ages in the club is incredible.

“I remember that day in Chicago vividly though and the progress we have made since then should motivate all others around the world trying to encourage people to get involved in the GAA outside of Ireland,” he mused.

Jarlath 'Cha' Connaughton and his son Justin who are travelling from Queens, New York to Croke Park on Sunday.

While Cha will be in situ at headquarters in time for the All-Ireland minor final between his native county and Tipperary, back in Queens, the troops will be building for what Connaughton believes is one of two incomparable occasions.

The club is backboned by chairman and Kenmare man Seán Price, vice-chairman Robert McDonagh of Kells, co Meath, secretary Marge Corridan, Declan Kavanagh and many others.

Events such as the All-Ireland finals represent unique opportunities for the people of Shannon Gaels, the theme of the diaspora generally.

After all, they are chances to truly enthral themselves in the culture of their own homeland, more so, Cha states, than is even true of St Patrick’s Day!

“This Sunday, and the Sunday of the All-Ireland football final, Shannon Gaels will be packed to the rafters with kids and families from all over Ireland and with direct links to Ireland.

“Over the years it’s been a privilege to be among the people of the club on the days of the All-Ireland finals.

“Looking around at the kids being glued to the TVs, kids that have heroes such as Joe Canning, Richie Hogan, Aidan O’Shea, Bernard Brogan, Colm Cooper, you understand how important those days are.

“At the end of the day those kids will be carrying the flame forward in years to come and we all believe it is vital they have a sense of their background, their parents’ backgrounds.

“There is a greater sense of ‘Irishness’ on the two All-Ireland final-days for myself and those within Shannon Gaels than there is on St Patrick’s Day here in New York.

“St Patrick’s Day couldn’t compare to All-Ireland final-day, certainly not for me and I know there are others of the same mind-set here.

“And I absolutely mean that.”

Understandably, Connaughton is of the opinion Anthony Cunningham’s men can do the business and dethrone Brian Cody’s relentless Cats.

Galway’s Cathal Mannion.

Interestingly, he points to a young corner-forward from Ahascragh-Fohenagh as a potential match-winner for the Tribesmen.

“I’ve a gut feeling Cathal Mannion could win the game for Galway,” he opines. “He’s having an amazing season and his confidence is infectious.

“We all know though that Galway will need to be much more defensively sound on the day.

“In saying that, I reckon they will be and Mannion and co can trouble Kilkenny at the other end.

“Myself and Justin just can’t wait to touch base with family back home on Friday and look forward to Sunday.

“It’ll be a great day.”

Before we hang up our phones Cha enquiries if yours truly has been to New York previously.

Unfortunately, the answer is no but that that might well change in the next year or so.

His response?

“Jees that should change. When you’re coming over you have my number, use it.

“I’ll show you Shannon Gaels, what we’re all about.

“And we’ll look after you. We always look after our own,” he added.

In what is a special week for Irish all over the world those words were a timely reminder of one thing, GAA folk are the very best of people.

The very best.

WATCH: The midfield battle zone will be key to All-Ireland final outcome on Sunday


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