A quarter of a century in New York has done little to dampen Seán Price’s Kerry accent — or his passion for talking football.
The Kenmare man returned to his family — and sporting roots — last week when overseeing a 24-strong development squad of U16 players, all of whom are American born and bred.
Even he wondered at those combined quirks of fate which had steered him across the Atlantic in the 90s in search of work and then saw fit to direct him towards home with an access-all-areas pass to the think-tank of Gaelic football in his native county.
“On a personal level, the highlight of this trip was the Monday morning when we came through the gates of the Kerry Centre of Excellence in Currans. It was something special being a Kerry man to be bringing a team of young New York players to such an amazing facility.
“I could not thank or compliment the Kerry County Board enough — they gave us the keys to the Kingdom for three days.”
The journey of this squad has been years in the making. Two years ago, the core of this group, then U14, won an All-Ireland Féile title.
That, in turn, led to the creation of a development squad by New York underage chiefs, a programme which is now in its second year.
And what better way to further their football education than a return to the home country?
Price set to work on laying the groundwork for the visit months ago.
“New York has been a great source of help and finance for the Centre of Excellence in Kerry, and during their fundraising trips over I got to meet the likes of Timmy Murphy (Kerry chairman) and Jimmy Deenihan (former TD) and explained how we would like to come and actually avail of the facilities.”
Murphy was hugely receptive to the idea and promised great things. He was true to his word, rolling out the green and gold carpet to welcome their American guests.
Even Price as taken aback by the efforts, and interest, of their hosts.
He explained: “We had three days of coaching in Kerry. David Clifford spoke to the group, Marc Ó Sé took a session while Mickey Ned O’Sullivan, Jason McGahan, and Gavin White also spent time with us. Donal Daly was fantastic as well in overseeing it all and putting it together.
I can be accused of being biased as a Kerryman, but the entire thing could not have been more professionally run from A to Z. We could not have been treated better if we were a full-time soccer or rugby team.
"We had access to everything from pitches, to meeting rooms, to expert advice.
“Here were 24 American-born kids being treated as if we were getting ready for an All-Ireland final. I could not have been more grateful.”
The cost of such a trip ran close to $45,000 (€40,000). The players raised half the monies primarily through raffle tickets while the remainder was sourced by management via sponsorship and calling in favours.
“The generosity towards us has been incredible,” Price admitted. But this was far from a one-man crusade. His backroom team consisted of a fellow Kerryman in Paudie Mulvihill (Ballydonoghue), Paul Moore (Monaghan), and trainer Paddy Curtis (Meath).
The glue that helped keep everything in place was tour manager Colette McElligott — who was born and raised in Asdee in North Kerry.
“She put everything together in terms of our flights, our accommodation, our meals — everything. We’d literally have been lost without her.”
The group arrived in Dublin on Sunday, June 30, before heading to Killarney, which became their base for the next three days.
The majority of that was spent in nearby Currans and the Centre of Excellence under the watchful eye of some Kerry legends, past and present. But it wasn’t all just theory and training sessions, with the side playing two challenge games — winning both — against a Mid Kerry selection and Dr Crokes.
The group then relocated to Ballyhaunis where Cathal Cregg and Darragh Fallon ensured the group had a special Fourth of July 4 welcome at the Connacht Centre of Excellence (pictured). There they underwent fitness tests which Price and company can, in time, use to compare to their Irish counterpartsin a similar development squad.
On Saturday they played a tournament organised by the provincial council, defeating Leitrim and Mayo selections before losing to Sligo in the cup final.
Price continued: “We want to show them that they can play football with kids from Ireland. It is not the environment that necessarily makes a footballer, it is the desire that they have to improve and to succeed. So it doesn’t matter if a player is from New York or from Newmarket, if he or she wants it badly enough, they should be given every opportunity to succeed.
The majority of the kids would be first-generation, but some would be third, fourth or fifth. This trip is primarily about football and improving them as footballers, but it is also about the culture, history, and their ancestry.
"Many of the group are staying on beyond Monday (the squad departure date) and taking this as a family vacation.”
Price hopes that such trips will become annual events for exciting young talent in New York and beyond. “The appetite for GAA at underage level has never been bigger in the States. Kids are getting the best of training and parents are willing to put the time into them.
“The Continental Youth Championships are coming up in Philadelphia and they are predicting the biggest number of players in the competition history (The CYC is a four-day event which is open to every clubs in North America and Canada, for teams from U6 to U18 level).
"But the key thing is to keep as many of those children playing GAA as possible.”
All of this is building towards a future, which is fast coming down the tracks, where New York will be more and more dependent on their homegrown players to field teams in the championship.
I honestly believe that if the second-tier competition comes in, you will find a different landscape in terms of players coming, or not coming, to America in the same numbers.
"We have to embrace the fact that the senior team may soon all be New York-based players. We have to look at the model of American based players. We have to be ready for that future.”