|The New York squad. (Photo by Margaret Purcell)|
Back in 2003 New York took Leitrim to extra time at Gaelic Park in the Connacht championship, almost causing a massive upset.
I went along on Sunday to the 2013 game hoping against hope that a repeat of such a thrilling match was on the cards, but dreading that New York would be outclassed.
Alas, my worst fears were borne out. An indicator of how far New York has slipped in 10 years was on show at the packed Bronx venue on Sunday when Leitrim walloped the hometown all-stars to the tune of 4-19 to 0-7 points.
It was right up there with an Alabama football game against Chattanooga or the Yankees against the Toldeo Mud Hens, a mismatch of historic proportions which sadly tells a tale.
The lack of emigration from Ireland is crippling the standard of GAA play in America, and unless we can get immigration reform of some kind the future of the game in the U.S. is in big trouble.
Hurling teams in New York have been slashed in half in the past few years, putting Ireland’s oldest game in imminent danger of dying out here without a resumption of emigration.
Sure there is a wonderful youth division, the Minor Board, which encourages young Irish Americans to play, but realistically only a small number of them continue on once reaching college age.
There have been some remarkable bright spots too, such as the recent formation of a first ever GAA team in Manhattan called the Manhattan Gaels which has provided a much-needed boost.
But the sad reality on show at Gaelic Park on Sunday told another lesson. GAA players who are elite athletes will not come to America illegally when they can emigrate and easily get jobs in London, Perth or Toronto.
It is hard to blame them, but their loss is deeply affecting the GAA here. It is a sad reality because the huge crowd by Gaelic Park standards that showed up on Sunday is clearly enthused about Gaelic games.
It was a perfect Gaelic Park day with sunshine, wives and girlfriends showing up, many kids in tow and a great spirit and atmosphere.
There was a rousing Irish band, a hot dog stand, hamburgers and craic galore. The bar was packed and the visitors from Ireland brought good cheer and a festive atmosphere to the old grounds.
Old timers said it was among the largest crowds they had seen in years at the Bronx venue, and all we really wanted was a competitive game.
Alas it was not to be as a vastly superior Leitrim side ran amok and put scores over and under the bar with great regularity.
One could not but feel for the New York all-stars who had put their heart and souls into the preparations for the game and gave it their best despite the huge odds. But they were utterly outmatched despite their gallantry and were hopelessly adrift by halftime.
The fear is that the GAA will re-evaluate this annual fixture in New York. Leitrim are not usually among the best sides in Connacht, and one can only shudder at what All-Ireland finalists Mayo or stern rivals Galway might have done to New York on Sunday.
The size of the crowd and the statement about the GAA’s broad mission which encompasses their hundreds of teams outside Ireland is important. But the massacre New York received serves no one’s purpose.
It is one more important reason to hope for immigration reform this year.