New York development panels building for the future
By Cian O'Connell
Sean Price believes something is stirring in New York GAA. Young footballers are being crafted which is reflected by an impressive recent record during the past decade in the John West Feile na Gael competition.
Significant improvements at Under 14 level have been noticeable, but the next challenge is to carry that development through the age groups. Last weekend New York’s Under 16 panel returned to the Big Apple following a hugely encouraging spell in Ireland.
“The core of the group would be from the Feile winning group in 2017,” Kerry native Price explains. “They have stayed at the football. Last year we were invited over to Wexford for the Centenary Cup which was an Under 16 competition.
“Wexford, New York, Wicklow, and Carlow. We got to the final, but Carlow were much stronger than us. We had a great experience, then we decided to build on that again.
“We were invited to the Centre of Excellence in Kerry because Kerry are conscious of raising a lot of money in New York. So they were very conscious about giving back. Tim Murphy was very conscious of that and we spent three days there.
“It was fantastic, we had Kerry senior coaches, we had David Clifford, Sean O'Shea, and we were treated unbelievably.
“Then we went to a tournament in Sligo, we got to the final there, but were beaten by Sligo by four or five points. It was very, very successful. Obviously it isn't as easy keeping football alive as it is at home. It is a challenge with the lack of games, that is what kills us.”
A real passion and desire exists to grow the game in New York and the reaction from the different clubs has been positive according to Price.
“We have a decent enough pick by New York standards,” Price admits. “We probably had 40 or 45 kids that came to early developmental training, we keep that open as long as we can so that everybody benefits from it and to make sure it isn't a closed shop at all.
“Last year we had six new kids who didn't play in the Feile previously. This year we have three kids who weren't involved in the Feile winning team of 2017. We are very anxious to bring in kids.”
In recent campaigns under former London manager the focus placed by Ciaran Deely was bringing through homegrown players in order to build for the future. It is an approach Price is hopeful can be adopted in New York.
“You had 11 London based kids which is literally a hop and a skip away from Ireland, they can field 11, we had two with six on the panel that played against Mayo, only two were starting,” Price says.
“We have to start to reverse that, it doesn't work in any other county. The Dublin, Kerry, or Galway senior teams they are all kids from those places.
“Obviously certain people work in different locations, of course that is acceptable. We have got to grow our own talent here, it only makes our own leagues stronger then internally.
“That is the whole idea and the whole idea about going back to Connacht. We played Leitrim in the Under 16 tournament, we played Sligo. They are here in two or three years, Leitrim are here in four years. We want to be able to give the kids here the confidence to say I played against him four years ago in an Under 16 tournament and we did fine.
“I'm not saying that is the way it works, but it gives kids confidence. It shows them that there isn't much difference between what we do and the kids over there do.”
Ultimately, it means the adventures in Ireland provide meaningful games and training for the New York teenagers.
“The big difference is we just suffer from a lack of games which is nobody's fault,” Price adds. “These trips over there are huge for the kids to hang out together, to see what the other kids are doing. We had a fitness test in Ballyhaunis, we can look at the results to see what we have got to work on.
“We just have to try to be part of Connacht and as a result of being part of Connacht we can strengthen our own Championship here, we can get American kids playing for New York.
“Then in the event that we do beat a team we can take that entire New York panel home because you don't have to worry about emigration issues which is a huge issue at the moment here.”
Does Price believe that the standard of the underage game in New York has strengthened considerably? “There has always been great work here with the underage structures up to Under 14,” Price replies.
“New York have been in the Feile, they have been successful in Division Two, winning in 2012, advancing to Division One where we have pretty much been the standard bearer since then ultimately winning it two years ago.
“The work that is being put in, we have to extend that and it is why the development at Under 16 is so critical. The kids have been in Ireland for Feile, winning them and being competitive, but then there isn't enough work being put in after that.
“The senior board has an Under 17 to Under 21 development programme. It is all about trying to keep the kids playing, making it attractive for them to play. I feel the only way you can make it attractive, for kids to give up their time is to have a carrot, which is the trip to Ireland.
“The players themselves sell raffle tickets which funds 50% of the cost of the trip. Management, through sponsorship and calling in favours, which the Irish community are absolutely brilliant at here.
“Fundraising is never an issue. I know it can be in Ireland, but we really don't have fundraising issues for the Feile or Under 16s. The Under 16s themselves are really conscious of raising money and doing the right thing.”
Adamant about the talent being nurtured in New York Price reckons further progress can be made through sheer hard graft.
“That is the message we want to get out,” Price acknowledges. “Some of these kids if they were living in Kerry, Galway, Donegal, or Dublin they would be on development squads, no question.
“I'm not saying all of them because obviously there is different standards with everybody. We have kids that can play football at any level, that is the message given back to us from the teams we were competing against.
“It is easy to keep it alive if you have the grá for it which is the word a lot of people use. It is just about putting in the time and effort. It is worth it when you go home competing against a Sligo or a Leitrim, last year against the Wicklows and Wexfords.
“That shows we are doing something right and that these kids can continue to play football. It keeps their heritage alive which is a huge thing. It gives them a connection with Ireland which is much deeper than the GAA.
“My son plays, I was born in Kerry, but you have generations going back. It could be second, third or fourth generation, they get the connection with Ireland which may reap rewards down the line.
“When that guy has kids himself they might bring them to play football to have a connection with Ireland they normally wouldn't have.”
The Continental Youth Championships in Philadelphia is next on the agenda. It remains a keenly contested competition in the United States of America.
“On Thursday we are going to Philly for the Continental Youth Championships, the biggest one ever with 600 teams, almost 300 games over four days, Under 16s and 18s,” Price states.
“It is a massive, massive weekend, it goes around different cities in America. I'll meet people that I won't see again for another year.
“Every club in New York will go because it is in Philly. Traditionally the New York clubs are the stronger clubs. Talking about Under 16, New York will probably have 75% of the teams competing, San Francisco will compete as San Francisco.
“That is just the strength New York has in underage. I personally think New York is doing very well at Under 16, Under 17, mirroring what they are doing in Ireland with development squads.
“We aren't here to win All Irelands, we just want to keep the kids playing football. When they get to 17, 18, 19, 20 they will want to play senior football for their clubs and for New York.”
So much joy can be derived from the journey even if keeping teams and clubs going in New York can be demanding. “Yeah, but I think it is the same basic principle,” Price responds.
“I said this to the Under 16s, I say it to the parents all of the time an excuse is only an excuse. There is no definition of an excuse. That is what it is. We can all offer excuses, it is too hot or you are working late.
“You structure your day around it. I face the van for home every Tuesday or Thursday if there is training. You leave the city early, you have meetings early in the morning, you structure your work early in the morning which is the same you do at home. We witnessed that first hand at home.”
Price was struck by the warmth and genuine manner people were simply willing to assist.
“David Clifford came in to talk to us, I'm sure he had a million other things to do, Sean O'Shea the same,” Price comments.
“Gavin White came down to speak to us on the bus when we were leaving Kerry. Brendan Kealy the goalkeeping coach spent two hours with us, he said he could only spend half an hour, he was down with the goalkeeper one on one for two hours. When he was leaving I said I thought you had to leave Brendan.
“He said ‘I couldn't leave Sean, I enjoyed it more than anything else’. The goalkeeper went into the tournament, he was the only goalkeeper that didn't let in a goal. I'm not saying Brendan Kealy had anything to do with it, but I think it helps.
“We got a goalkeeper to talk to him, the kid got confidence, he made three or four point blank saves. Everything ties in. We do it here, we are only following the tradition, but everyone at home is totally receptive from Kerry to Ballyhaunis to Sligo.
“We got the red carpet treatment everywhere we went. That is important. It goes down to the mentality of the GAA. Everybody helps and everybody has a grá for New York.
“Definitely Kerry and Sligo and the west of Ireland are communities that suffered from emigration. There is a connection between emigration and money going back, that was always important.”
So too is the way in which Gaelic Games has survived throughout the world. In New York the signs suggest that it might be preparing to thrive again in the coming years.