PwC All Stars get a taste of Gaelic games Philadelphia style

Footballers visit club in Pennsylvania to coach youngsters in city where US GAA founded

PwC All Star footballers with members of  Philadelphia GAA Club and the Sam Maguire cup after a coaching session in Limerick Field,  Pottstown, Philadelphia. Photograph: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

PwC All Star footballers with members of Philadelphia GAA Club and the Sam Maguire cup after a coaching session in Limerick Field, Pottstown, Philadelphia. Photograph: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

 

The PwC Football All Stars visited the Limerick Field complex in Philadelphia at the weekend, and Philadelphia GAA chair Ger Dillon was impressed that so many of them could turn their hands to coaching hurling to the more than 100 children present.

Dillon, originally from Lavey in Co Derry, tells a tale that runs counter to the received notions of Gaelic games overseas, but one which is in keeping with the evolving model of the association abroad.

The dynamic behind growth these days is the cultivation of local residents, many of whom have no Irish connection, rather than the steady importation of immigrant players from back home. There are clubs and teams playing all of the games – football, men and women, hurling and camogie.

“There are three adult hurling teams here - junior clubs,” says Dillon, “and 80 per cent of them have no connection with Ireland or hurling and football. They just come through and pick it up. Some come from a lacrosse background but they’re not Irish-connected.”

There were games played in Philadelphia in the 1930s, but the first structure came in 1959 when the North America Board (to administer the games outside of New York and now renamed US GAA) was founded in the city in 1959.

Development work

Dillon says that the development work is beginning to pay off as the local GAA recovers from the boom-time reversal of Irish immigration and the tighter controls now in force in the US.

“This is the first year that Delco [Delaware County] Gaels are fielding an adult team and every one of those kids has come up through the development programme over the past 10 or 12 years. There are those who have been away in college and come back to live and they are involved again, but they all came up through the youth programme and not through immigration.”

You get girls coming out of college who maybe have a basketball or soccer background and get to know about it

The catchment is broadened by engaging with interested locals – from those exercising on a running track near where football training is taking place and whose interest is piqued, to those who are sufficiently curious to look it up online. He says that the spectacle at last September’s All-Ireland women’s final with its record attendance of 50,000 helped sell the game.

“You get girls coming out of college,” he says, “who maybe have a basketball or soccer background and get to know about it. Obviously the internet allows them have a look and see what it’s about and click on to Croke Park and everyone’s shouting and dancing.”

Next July, 2,500 children will come to Philadelphia for the GAA CYC – Continental Youth Championships – which is the biggest youth tournament in North America.

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