Big Apple ex-pats return home in style

THERE is added significance to some simple utterances being thrown around by the New York ladies football team as they disperse into the hot night at the home of the Rockland GAA club in Orangeburg, NY.

“We’ll chat in Ireland,” they promise each other. “For God’s sake, mind yourself,” Niamh Britton warns teammate Méabh De Búrca.

The air is heavy and we’re just close enough to the Hudson River for the mosquitoes to be at their most rampant. None of it matters. They’ve just had a tough training game but nobody’s tired.

This is their last intensive get-together before they board tonight’s transatlantic overnight flight to Ireland.

Sounds gruelling but that doesn’t matter. The New York ladies are back in the All-Ireland junior championship for the first time in almost a decade.

“It’s not something I thought I’d ever play in again,” 11-year veteran Caitriona Lynch, a native of Kinnegad tells me as the last of the cars leaves the parking lot.

Carlow lie in wait and will enjoy home advantage for Saturday evening’s clash at the HQ of county kingpins Éire Óg. The ex-pats will have just over 48 hours to dispense with jetlag but the hard work has been done — adrenaline will take care of the rest.

In a panel with many subplots of commitment, Méabh De Búrca’s story is one of the more impressive feats.

Tonight she will be at Richmond Park for a senior international soccer friendly against Switzerland as the Irish women’s team prepare for their Euro 2013 qualifying campaign, which starts in Wales on September 17. They head to Cork five days later for a clash with France in Turner’s Cross.

The Salthill-born midfielder, who turned 23 a couple of weeks ago, plays for Boston Aztec in the second tier of US women’s soccer, having initially moved to America in 2009 for a soccer scholarship at the University of New Haven.

But forget all that, the big one is Saturday evening.

Due to her demanding schedule, De Búrca flew home last Thursday, the day after I met up with the panel. It meant she missed out on Saturday night’s fundraiser at the Polish Centre in Yonkers, a GAA version of Dancing with the Stars, organised by Britton.

The point of the evening’s entertainment was not to break even but to make a profit and prepare for possible success. Necessity, not arrogance, has forced them to plan as far as the final. They stay in Ireland until September 4, whether they make it to the September 3 semi-final or not. And then the decider, slated for three weeks later, as glorious as that could turn out to be, will bring with it the potential for more logistical confusion, forcing them to take another flight back.

Should they go all the way, it will end up being the perfect way to celebrate October’s 20th anniversary of this vibrant 500-player branch of the Ladies GAA.

Most of the players warming down and chatting by the sideline are Irish-born but busy chairperson/corner-forward Rosie O’Reilly Broderick brings me to meet two of her Bronx-born “Féile protegés”, 18-year-old half-back Caroline McBrien and 17-year-old half-forward Courtney Traynor.

The recurring theme is the pride these players feel, bringing a New York team back home. For this pair, playing the game they love in their ancestral home is extra special.

“I feel a little more pressure than the others because it’s totally new for us,” McBrien tells me.

“All my family is there and they’ll come see me,” Traynor adds, pointing to a perk that all these players will enjoy — or be forced to keep their minds off, depending on what way you look at it.

“It is a huge honour to represent New York,” says vice-captain Cathriona Brady, a former Monaghan player. “This is our home right now and it’s great to be able to go back to Ireland and show the family what we’ve built up over here.”

Alongside Brady is captain Mary O’Rourke (“everyone calls me Molly”), a former Waterford player from Clashmore who has lived in New York for almost seven years.

“We have a great bunch. It’s great to be playing together for once. We’ve always played against each other over the years. Everyone’s here because they want to be here.

“The numbers we get at training have been great because everybody wants to get on the team.

“We’re at a bit of a disadvantage because Carlow have been playing league games against competitive opposition all year and we haven’t competed in the junior championship in a few years. We’re going in a bit blind.

“We don’t know what we’re in for. We’ll have to see when we get in Thursday and have our first session. We have two days to adjust. We’ll have to put everything in.”

Something they’re used to so why stop now?

*Contact: Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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