These don't have to be just 'our games' - anyone can play
New York GAA seemed at times to rely on importing the home experience with the apparently ceaseless traffic of inter-county players to play in the local championships. But times have changed.
It used to be said the GAA in New York and North America in general thrived when Ireland was doing badly but unlike previous recessions, the current economic calamities haven’t been amenable to the traditional remedy of exporting our unemployed there. For a start the US economy has also been affected by the 2008 global meltdown but more tellingly, the intensified security of post-September 11th America has made undocumented immigration a much less viable option than in previous decades.
The GAA has had to become more adept at reaching out to the local populations and in that regard the statistics are impressive. Around 700 children involved in a juvenile programme in the suburb of Rockland was one of the examples used by O’Neill. There has also been the increased representation of non-immigrants on New York teams.
For so long the concept of the GAA abroad has been about importing the games and providing a home from home rather than reaching out to the local populations.
In recent years the European board model of recreational involvement has been notably successful. Established by largely voluntary emigrants whose jobs took them to the continent, it often attracted Irish people who had no previous involvement in Gaelic games but who saw them as a way of recognising their cultural identity as well as providing a sporting and social outlet.
It was here that the great appeal of women’s football was identified and at the weekend Liam O’Neill spoke of how it was that game, rather than the men’s, which had the greatest potential to attract overseas communities to participate in GAA activities. As the president emphasised the growth of the women’s game adds urgency to the task of removing the barriers between the sports so that the GAA is formally open to all.
With the New York GAA modernising and hoping to celebrate its centenary in 2014 by redeveloping the facilities at Gaelic Park and also by staging a national league final, the old model of the GAA projecting a self-absorbed nationalism is giving way to a more inclusive form of expansion.
These don’t have to be just ‘our games’ – anyone can play.