Lory Meagher Cup: Warwickshire winning the generation game

The English midlands is host to a proud GAA tradition

Warwickshire celebrate last year’s Lory Meagher Cup victory at Croke Park. Photograph: Inpho

Warwickshire celebrate last year’s Lory Meagher Cup victory at Croke Park. Photograph: Inpho

Sat, May 10, 2014, 10:00

If and when Daniel Crowley makes his debut for Arsenal , there will be more than a few glasses raised to his success in the GAA strongholds of Warwickshire. The teenager is regarded as one of England’s brightest homespun prospects, combining the low, slalom dribbling of Stanley Matthews with the vision of Lionel Messi. And before football claimed him, he was a regular face in the Warwickshire GAA circuit.

“Almost all of the youngsters playing Gaelic games here now are English born,” says Paddy Hoey, who has been immersed in the English GAA scene for the last 30 years and is also the manager of the Warwickshire hurling team who play in the second round of the Lory Meagher Cup today.

“In the last 10 years we have had a full-time training officer in schools and clubs. They would have Irish parents of second and third generation. The link with the Catholic primary schools is the big thing. But some English kids have come along with their friends and joined up. There would be a big awareness in the county of GAA.”

Any talk about overseas GAA evokes thoughts of London or New York or some of the newer clubs springing up across continental Europe and London. The necklace of clubs that have existed for decades across the Midlands are often forgotten.

But John Mitchels was founded in Birmingham in 1939 and appeared in an All-Ireland junior football final just seven years later.

The tradition is there. By the time Paddy Hoey left Clare 30 years ago, the Irish drift towards the huge car manufacturing plants in the Midlands had already begun to slow down. Irish emigrants were gravitating towards London.

Warwickshire is a big jurisdiction, covering Nottingham, Leicsestershire, Rugby and Northamptonshire. To survive, Warwickshire Gaels realised they had to concentrate on getting youngsters involved in the games.

“We have five clubs in Birmingham alone and three in Coventry. So there are seventeen registered clubs in the county, all with underage sides.

“We compete in Féile in hurling, football and camogie and clubs either rent or own their own ground. We purchased a field at the county ground, Páirc Na hÉireann and we have got great backing from the Overseas Association and Croke Park, from Pauric Duffy and Liam O’Neill. Jack Boothman opened the ground for us in 1989. So we have always felt included.”

Frank Short, a schoolteacher from Birmingham and father of Labour politician Claire Short, was the first chairman of Warwickshire GAA.

“He was before my time but he was a major player in the structures of Warwickshire GAA . . . he is a legend in these parts, really. I think she has an interest in the GAA and when she speaks about her heritage, she always mentions Warwickshire and her father. A lot of big business men in Birmingham have Irish roots so the club is well established in the minds of people.”

Warwickshire hurling faces the challenge to all overseas clubs: trying to get enough quality games to help improve. During the last wave of heavy Irish emigration to the Midlands, they could field teams strong enough to claim two junior All-Ireland titles: Kilkenny’s Mick Brennan was among their most celebrated players. But the next big break was the invitation to participate in the Leinster junior league in 2004, paving the way for entry into the Nicky Rackard competition a year later.

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