The rise and rise of a great GAA event

There was a great old buzz in New York’s GAA circles a couple of weeks back when the two Féile teams performed so admirably in the west of Ireland and now the countdown to the Continental Youth Championships can really begin.

It’s the tenth year of this incredible GAA event, one in which — for the record — I can’t claim any hand, act or part (I’m PRO of the senior board in New York).

This is a larger North American-wide phenomenon and promises to be the biggest yet with over 230 teams registered and more than 2,500 players from under six to minor set to compete over the last weekend of this month (July 24-27).

Smooth organisation of a gathering like this is as vital and comprehensive as you’d imagine because among other logistical issues, it will be hot and busy on Randall’s Island, the Manhattan chunk of land floating on the East River between Harlem and Queens on which almost 100 ~multi-purpose all-weather pitches keep so many of us busy on weeknights and weekends.

The parade in Woodlawn on the opening night will be an intense carnival and everything will hopefully flow from there.

“The key to our organisation was getting members from all the local clubs to participate,” Host Committee Chairman Eugene McArdle pointed out.

“The overall plans have been similar to years past but the size of this tournament presented a different set of conditions that had to be overcome. Finding the amount of fields we needed in an acceptable location within the New York City Limits, that was easily accessible from many different areas in the city-was key.

“The coordination with the local government in securing permits was the biggest challenge we faced. We had to leverage many relationships with local politicians and government officials to coordinate this.”

Of course, as ever with a huge grassroots GAA happening like this, there is an overwhelming dependency on volunteers to step up and assist with the day-to-day operations.

Aside from that, the Irish community in general is being urged to come out and support the young stars who are travelling from as far as California, Chicago, Toronto and Ottawa with nearer clubs in Buffalo, Boston and Philadelphia represented too.

“The sheer size of the tournament this year is very exciting,” said Simon Gillespie, the New York Games Development Officer and also secretary of the CYC Steering Committee.

“There’ll be almost 700 games in 41 competitions for the 230 teams. It’s a kind of frightening thought given that the first CYC had 40 teams and was run over a weekend.

“It’s amazing how far it has come over the 10 years and it is thanks to the foresight of the founders of the tournament and the perseverance of all involved to get the CYC to where it is now. We’re all looking forward to being part of the whole experience and I really hope we can make it an unforgettable experience for all the participants.”

With the New York GAA celebrating its centenary in tandem with the 10-year anniversary of the CYC, both organisers and competitors are confident that they’ll build on the success of Philadelphia last year. And in a lot of ways, it is the CYC which has developed into the jewell in the crown of the North American branches of the Association.

The GAA top brass have been consistent visitors and strong advocates. For better or worse, their developing of an overseas strategy is largely inspired by what they see at the CYC. It’s a strong reminder that there can be a future for the games here. The majority of the players travelling here this month will focus on other sports later in life but they will always have this incredible experience to fall back on.

The parade down McLean, the visit to Yankee Stadium for a game and ultimately the medals they receive is recognition of their devotion to the traditions of their parents and grandparents.

I want to finish by mentioning the sad passing of a good man. Val Tupper was a great father to my good friend John as well as the other Tuppers with whom I argued about sport over the years: Michael, Tom and Mary.

Great friends on the golf course but never in agreement off it, they were a testament to what sport means to people.

We may not always get it right when we rant about our passions but it’s always a true bond.

When I called my own parents on Sunday to tell them the news, we first had to cover the Cork football blow-out and the hurling comebacks from Saturday.

I didn’t mean to relegate you, Mr Tupper, but I know you would have enjoyed that.

Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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