Michael Moynihan: Old friends from Ballinskelligs find a common goal in New York

Your columnist’s GAA adventures in the States never took in New York.
Michael Moynihan: Old friends from Ballinskelligs find a common goal in New York

Your columnist’s GAA adventures in the States never took in New York.

The closest I ever got was Hartford, an unfortunate late draw and a sad wave goodbye to the Worcester Fenians bus heading north. Great days.

All of the above came to mind when a pal forwarded on pictures of New York GAA jersey launch. Among the players and officers were the two sponsors: what caught my eye wasn’t the fact that they were both from the same county, but from the same small village within that county.

John Fitzpatrick took a call during the week: his firm, Gotham Drywall Inc, is the name across the back of the New York jersey. Navillus is the name on the front, the company of the O’Sullivan brothers . ..

“Donal is the biggest union concrete contractor in New York City in the last eight or ten years,” says John Fitzpatrick.

“He’s always very generous to the Irish community here. As my Dad used to say, the O’Sullivans are people who never forgot where they came from.”

Where that is, exactly, is one of the remoter corners of south Kerry.

“The O’Sullivans are from Ballinskelligs - if you know where the crossroads near the beach is then you could find the new graveyard and their house is near enough to it.”

Fitzpatrick knows the area well: his family home is near enough to that same crossroads.

In New York his drywalling firm has almost 500 employees on its books when there isn’t a lockdown.

How was it a couple of lads from the same couple of acres on the west coast ended up sponsoring the New York GAA team?

“It’s always nice to get involved with an intercounty team. Donal’s been involved for five or six years, and I got involved this year - we were interested in sponsoring the team for a couple of years and it came up then for this year.

“The links between us go all the way back. I remember Donal training us as minors back in 1983, for instance.”

Fitzpatrick expanded on New York’s summer: the lack of J-1 students, for instance, shouldn’t have too much of an impact on games in the Big Apple.

The old cowboy days of county players jetting in for a lucrative weekend under an assumed name are also long gone: “We always had the J-1 kids out in the past, but in the last couple of years people have been shy enough about coming out for the summer with the regime here.

“To be fair, New York has spent a lot of time in the last few years developing Irish-American players, there’s been a lot of focus on the minor board, and we have a solid development squad bringing players through.

“For years we were known for relying on summer players, and weekend players - once county teams were knocked out of the championship then five or six lads per team would be coming out. Now, though, social media can help police that. Videos can be taken so easily and sent around so quickly that nobody wants to take a chance on illegal players.”

Mind you, third level education isn’t always a big help to them in retaining players.

“We have a development plan in place for hurling, football, camogie and ladies football and it’s going well.

“We send a team to Britain for the universities Gaelic football tournament, we have teams playing Féile, so all of that helps to keep numbers up.

“But we’d have a particular problem with kids going to college here - they’re doing well up to 16 or 17, then they’re gone to college for a few years and probably not playing football or hurling.

“If they come back and fall in to play again it’s as if you’re starting from scratch, getting their skills back.”

Fair enough. As ever, the toughest question I kept to the end.

If Connell from Normal People lands in New York to take up his college course, who’s he going to play with?

“Well, we’re always welcoming,” laughs Fitzpatrick. “We’ll have to see about his transfer, though.”

Adapting to changed times

I see that (the new thing)(now) is to pick a Mount Rushmore of your county’s great sportspeople. Nominations, discussions, votes: just like a general election but less of the post-ballot stabbing in the back.

The lockdown is doing strange things to people, but one point is worth making about this development.

If you look around, statues and likenesses everywhere in the world are being dumped in rivers, torn down with cables, splashed with bleach, covered with boxes.

The last thing I’d be doing, even figuratively, is creating more statuary, with all due respect to the sculptors and stonemasons out there. Why get something up on a plinth when it could end up at the bottom of a river in no time?

On a vaguely allied point, I was at a score the other evening (bowl playing jargon, bear with me). It was great to get to a live sports event, and all credit to Ból Chumann na hÉireann - getting back to competition is a fair achievement, and their plan to begin with youth bowling, with its smaller attendances, was a smart move based on Monday night’s experience.

But a word of warning to all slavering at the prospect of seeing sport again.

It’s different. That may not strike you as a staggering insight, but when the actuality is in front of you, then the aborted handshakes, the presence of surgical gloves, the wide berths being given by people . . . it takes some getting used to.

The notion that nothing is going to be the same isn’t just lazy filler on a radio panel show - you’ll see it for yourself in time.

The shot seen round the world

Claudell Washington passed away last Wednesday at the age of 65. He was a well-respected professional baseball player who won a World Series in his first season with the Oakland Athletics but spent much of his career with other teams without ever reaching those lofty heights again.

Why is he here?

On June 5 1985 Washington played a game in Chicago and hit one ball in particular down the left-hand side of the field.

The producers of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off used footage of that swing for the sequence in the movie when Ferris catches a baseball at a game in Wrigley Field.

It was Claudell Washington who took the shot. Now you know.

Larwood biography is an award winner

I mentioned some time ago that I’d come across Bodyline on Youtube, the great TV series from the eighties about the Australia-England cricket controversy in the thirties.

Yes, I know you have probably come across more enticing descriptions, but as a whippersnapper I found this series a gripping watch, my complete ignorance of the game of cricket notwithstanding.

English bowler Harold Larwood was a key personality in the drama - on- and off-screen - and I was delighted to collect a biography of Larwood from a pal recently.

The details of Larwood’s early life and escape from coal mining, the thickets of snobbery around international cricket in the twenties and thirties, the challenges of professional sport just under a century ago . ..

Little wonder Duncan Hamilton won sports book of the year when this was published in 2009. Outstanding.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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