High priests must get inside the heads of converts

The Junior B Football game scheduled for the first day of the North American Finals at the end of this month stands out: Cayman Islands v Raleigh (North Carolina).

High priests must get inside the heads of converts

As does the Junior C game between Setanta and Mason Dixon later that afternoon.

There have been Gaelic games played on the Cayman Islands since 1987 and this is their second showing at the annual Labour Day weekend GAA tournament. But Mason Dixon? That’s brilliant.

This end-of-summer ritual is fast becoming synonymous with the GAA in the US. With the respective divisional finals beginning to take shape, it’s the ideal time to bring the best teams together from across the North American County Board.

This is the fourth time that the games will be held at the Irish Cultural Centre in Boston since it opened in 1999. The ICC, the home of the Boston Northeast GAA, is located 20 miles south of downtown Boston in the town of Canton, Massachusetts.

And just like the Continental Youth Championships which took place in New York last month, the North American Championships simply seem to grow by the year.

Over 120 teams will be gathered in the Boston suburb, clubs travelling from as far as Seattle and San Francisco, not to mention the Cayman Islands. More than 2,500 players will be taking part with hurling and camogie once again proving to be disproportionately popular.

Since the start of the season in April, the different regional divisions that make up the North American County Board have been running their competitions in hurling, camogie & Gaelic football.

“The ICC is an ideal complex to host the games,” Boston GAA PRO Rory O’Donnell points out.

“The fields are in great condition and are situated within close walking distance of each other. The logistics are taken care of. With two weeks to go it is now down to the teams of players and organisers to make it a weekend to remember.”

Once again, the new hurling strongholds of Milwaukee and Indianapolis will be out in strength while an increasing number of teams from Canada will also be heading south.

“One of the most noticeable aspects of the finals has been the growth of hurling and Gaelic football amongst Americans with little or no connections to Ireland,” points out O’Donnell.

This is the event at which it is most noticeable that hurling in particular has attracted interest from the unlikeliest people. It’s quite obvious why — hurling is so intriguing to first-timers that it becomes an obsession.

Indeed, this past Sunday, a soccer team-mate stared nervously over my shoulder as I streamed the All-Ireland semi-final. He couldn’t make head nor tail of it, but he was intrigued.

These new players who have gone to great expense to get to Boston, probably dismaying family and friends on what is a public holiday weekend, are the people the GAA back home needs to try and wrap their heads around.

How best to match their enthusiasm and how effectively can the games take root in Texas, the Carolinas, Florida and beyond?

It might be difficult to imagine but it always means a lot to these clubs that GAA dignitaries take the time to travel over. Liam O’Neill’s comments after the CYC were met with joy on this side of the Atlantic when he pointed out it was the biggest GAA event of that July weekend.

He’ll be joined by his successor Aogán O’Fearghail, camogie president Aileen Lawler and ladies’ football president Pat Quill.

It’s not quite a junket for them. It involves a lot of standing around in hot fields, shaking hands and keeping the game face on.

But there’s no better opportunity for them to check in at the grassroots and have their international plans more informed.

One particularly vocal proponent of expanding the game abroad is my good friend Peter Ryan, a founder of the Manhattan Gaels and currently on his way to Hong Kong to open a new consular office for the Irish government.

Peter got to enjoy one last Gaels win on Monday night and we then went for one last protracted, convoluted argument about the GAA, a debate which lasted well past closing time.

We said our goodbyes on Second Avenue and I watched him turn the corner with our goalkeeper Ger Shivnan.

They were still ranting about jerseys and the Hong Kong GAA club as they turned onto 39th Street and headed off into the New York night. Thus it ever will be and the Asian County Board will be lucky to have him back.

johnwriordan@gmail.com

Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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