St Barnabas: The team of US-born players looking for Gaelic football glory

In the drawn game St Barnabas made history by fielding a full team of American-born players.
St Barnabas: The team of US-born players looking for Gaelic football glory

Sligo and St Barnabas slug it out in the second edition of the New York decider on Sunday

Despite the Covid fixture crunch, there’s a county final replay being played this weekend.

Sligo and St Barnabas slug it out in the second edition of the New York decider on Sunday (Gaelic Park, 4pm local time), having drawn their first meeting.

The latter club embodies decades of hard work by coaches and officials in the Big Apple: in the drawn game St Barnabas made history by fielding a full team of American-born players.

Little wonder New York GAA secretary Liam Bermingham was keen to discuss their progress.

“St Barnabas have teams from U6 to adult: they have three adult teams. Junior A, junior B and senior.

“All of these kids have come up through the CYC (Continental Youth Championships), which is the equivalent of the Féile, and they’ve played in the Féile itself.

“Because of that they’ve come up against teams from all over America - from all over the world, in fact - so they can see there’s nothing to fear, that they’re as good as anybody. There might have been a perception once that the American kids weren’t as good as Irish kids, and maybe that was true sometimes, but what was also true was the American kids weren’t getting enough football to develop. Now they’re getting that and they’re developing really well.

“When they get older they can participate in the British Universities competition with New York Colleges, so they have a tremendous amount of football played by the time they’re grown up.” 

 The quality of their opponents the last day gives an idea of the altitude St Barnabas are operating at.

“Sligo would have six players who’ve played inter-county football, along with Johnny Glynn the Galway hurler,” says Bermingham. “Most of the rest would have played minor or U21 at inter-county level. So the level of play is very high.” 

Is it too simplistic to see St Barnabas’ arrival in the decider as an endorsement of the work that’s been put into underage sides?

“No, it’s 100% a validation of that work that these lads are coming through and can compete with the best.

It’s tremendously gratifying to see the likes of St Barnabas come through. We all realised in recent years that emigration was never going to go back to what it was long ago, we’d have to get local kids playing.

“But another problem was that the American kids didn’t get a chance to build on what they learned when they were young.

“We’d noticed that there was a big drop-off in playing numbers when they came out of minor because they were going away to college.

“I know that that happens everywhere, but in America, there’s a particular tradition of going away to college - away from the home place rather than living at home and going to college locally. So players were losing touch with the home club.

“We looked at running junior B competitions for when they came out of minor, for the American-born kids, to keep them playing and building on their skills. St Barnabas are the first club that’s held on to them and kept them going."

It’d be a great achievement for any club, let alone one in New York. Some of the St Barnabas players still had some energy after that game against Sligo, by the way.

“After the draw the last day most of them lads headed home,” says Bermingham.

“But three of the St Barnabas lads stayed on because they were playing in a junior hurling semi-final - right after the senior football final.

“They play for Limerick in junior hurling and gave a great show - they were 15 points down but they cut that lead to two points. The crowd applauded them out the gate at the end, in fairness.” 

Two finals in one day? That was the least they were entitled to.

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