GAA Board chairman Patrick O’Sullivan, fundraising chief John O’Dwyer - the son of Micko - and a slew of legendary All-Ireland winners blitzed the three primary Irish-American cities last month, totalling $1.15 million (€1,028,000) in gross proceeds from special events.
“When expenses are deducted, the net sum will go a long way to meeting the €5.8 million goal to commence construction on the training facility at Currans, “ Board chair Mr O’Sullivan said yesterday.
“The County Board hopes the last fundraiser in London at the end of the month will nearly finish the project funding.”
A welcome bonus from the trip was being able to raise the necessary money in advance to avoid three precious pieces of All-Ireland memorabilia being auctioned.
The sponsors decided that rather than auctioning three historic Kerry footballs, they’d ask generous supporters to give $2,500 (€2,231) each to keep the balls at home.
“There were 13 donors to the effort, netting $32,500 (€29,000),” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“They will be displayed for all to see in the new Centre of Excellence. The footballs, donated by the Sheehy family, were used in the 1926, 1930 and 1962 All-Ireland finals won by Kerry.
“John Joe Sheehy was team captain in 1926 and 1930. In 1962, John Joe was a selector and his three sons, Sean Óg, Niall and Paudie were team members with Sean Óg as captain.”
The balls were fully restored, and mounted on bases handmade from centuries-old wood by Ambrí Wood Pieces of Tralee that also display the names of the players. A framed presentation of team photographs includes team mascot Ogie Moran as a boy in the 1962 shot who went on to win eight All-Ireland medals with Kerry.
A week of power meetings kicked off with events in Boston that raised $107,000 (€95,506) gross. It went on to New York where the golf outing, dinner and auction grossed a massive $850,000 (€758,697) with top items including an oil portrait of Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh by West Kerry artist Liam O’Neill bringing $24,000 (€21,422) - and four Super Bowl tickets selling for (€22,320).
It concluded last week in Chicago where events generated $85,000 (€75,888). The American-Ireland Fund also contributed $100,000 (€89,309).
Said the Kerry chairman: “The New York gala was the event that will long be talked about – Kerry GAA packed the ballroom at the prestigious Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue with 420 attendees spending $1,000 each per plate.
“The Plaza Hotel is like having a match in Croke Park – the venue was in tune with the mood of the night,” said Micheal Ó Muircheartaigh afterwards.
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny addressed the audience of Kerry supporters and New York businessmen via pre-recorded video; Jimmy Deenihan, the Minister for Diaspora Affairs, delivered a speech; and comedian Denis Leary, who has Kerry roots, introduced the Kerry football highlights via video.
Other luminaries attending included Consul General of Ireland in New York, Barbara Jones; all-time money-earning American jockey Johnny Velazquez and fashion designer to the stars Don O’Neill, a Ballyheigue native.
Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh received a formal Proclamation from the City of New York honouring him for his “Extraordinary contribution to Irish life and the Gaelic Games.” John O’Dwyer, Kerry GAA international fundraising chairman added:
“This is a story of immigration from the West of Ireland. We followed those who left for America previously, and they have been very generous with their support of this training facility for our athletes and youth.”
Kerry’s Centre of Excellence will incorporate two locations, a co-hosted GAA facility at the Institute of Technology, Tralee, and six playing fields with a training facility at Currans. Site work at Currans has already begun on the first three sand-based pitches, which will be ready for play by spring 2016.
The Kerry County Board hopes to have full planning for the main building at Currans in place later this year, with groundbreaking soon afterwards and completion by early next summer.