Not long after Oisin Mathers and Brian Coughlan had accepted the Division 1 Féile crown, the New York panel, stood in the middle of Breffni Park, broke into verse.
First, a rousing rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. Then, Amhrán na bhFiann. They didn’t need prompting, they never have.
Sean Price couldn’t have been prouder. The New York manager, during their preparations for this year’s Féile Peile na nÓg, was keen to strengthen the ties between his players and the country in which their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were born and reared. After all, two-thirds of this New York panel were first-generation Irish. He wanted to create an identity.
He mentioned to Mickey Coleman, a member of the backroom team, that the players learn the Irish national anthem. Coleman, a two-time All-Ireland medal winner with Tyrone in 2003 and 2005, thought Rice was being smart given Mickey Harte had done something similar in ‘03.
Twenty-four copies were printed and handed to each member of the New York panel last March.
“Starting off, we told them to learn three lines and we’d rehearse it at the next training,” explains Price, a native of Kenmare who emigrated to the Big Apple in 1993. “They came back the next night and while they wouldn’t be singers, each one was able to recite it. We knew then we were onto something.
“We were in Garvaghey the week of the Féile and they sang it for Mickey Harte. We were in Croke Park and they sang it for Páraic Duffy. It was absolutely special to hear them sing it after we won the final. That’s something they’ll never forget.”
It is unlikely they’ll ever forget the week which concluded with last Sunday’s 3-7 to 0-2 Division 1 Féile final win over Portlaoise.
Shortly after the final whistle had sounded, Price received a text message from New York GAA Games Development Officer, Simon Gillespie from Donegal, who informed him that it had been 27 years since New York first entered a team in the U14 competition. They began in the lowest tier and climbed from there.
The 2012 class won the Division 2 title, the 2016 team fell at the semi-final hurdle.
The class of 2017. Well, they’ll come to be known as history-makers.
This particular story can trace its roots back to the 2016 final of the New York U14 spring league. Shannon Gaels beat Rangers after a replay. Outside of the silverware, the winning manager is installed as the New York Féile manager for the year after.
Sean Price was the manager of Shannon Gaels that afternoon, a club, formed in 2002, that pulls players from the Irish strongholds of Maspeth, Sunnyside, Whitestone, Woodside and College Point in the borough of Queens and Long Island. The club began in what was effectively a garden in Sunnyside. Today, they operate out of the eight acres given to them by the City of New York under a ‘maintenance and licensing agreement’ in 2011.
The remaining four clubs which made up this history-making side are New York Rangers (based in Yonkers). Rockland, St Barnabas (Bronx) and St Patrick’s (Fairfield). Into his management, Price brought Coleman, Ballydonoghue native Paddy Mulvihill, Clones’ Paul Moore and Paddy Curtis, born and bred in Seneschalstown.
Up to 70 youngsters were invited for trials at Gaelic Park, with the selected 24 coming together for their first training session on March 13 in Rockland.
Collette McElligott, a native of Asdee in North Kerry, never once called a drill or delivered a half-time speech. But were it not for her, this Féile title would have remained on Irish soil for the next 12 months. A woman had never before been involved in a New York Féile team, with Price breaking from tradition to bring in McElligott, whose son Shay was at left-half forward, as tour manager.
“She booked the flights, she ordered the gear from O’Neill’s and arranged for various people to bring it over so we’d avoid extra shipping costs. She was on the laptop night, noon and morning for the past seven months getting everything right. I reckon it cost around $60k to pull off the entire trip.”
He continues: “This was a phenomenal bunch we had but we now need to keep them together and give them a bridge which will see them continue on playing to adult level. What we need to do is get a New York minor team into the Connacht championship. That is our plan.”
New York U14 Féile panel:
James Kirk, Ciaran O’Connor, Evan Mulgrew, Luke Corridan, Collin Fleming, Niall McKenna, Colin Gargan, Oisin Mathers, Ciaran Dalton, Rory Duggan, Senan Price, Shay McElligott, Colm Shalvey, Brian Coughlan, Joseph Grace, Patrick Burke, Fintan Corbett, Denis Ashton Walsh, Ronan McAllister, Christopher Mulvihill, Julian Jamshahi, Killian Moore, Christopher Kennedy, Michael Doyle.
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