One hundred Gaelic teams, from 36 cities across the United States, came together for passionate and skillful displays of Irish football, hurling and camogie at the North American County Board (NACB) Finals in Cleveland over Labor Day weekend.
San Francisco’s Ulster team came away with a three point lead in the senior football final against Boston’s Connemara Gaels (1-15 to 2-9) (see table below for full results). It was a spectacular game to end the weekend with a local pipe band and a flyover banner congratulating all the players.
From the Cayman Islands to Boston, teams and fans from 17 states, and Ireland, flocked to the first NACB Finals to be held in Cleveland.
Mark Owens, the event chairman and also a player with Cleveland’s Gaelic football team, St. Pat’s, estimated that there were up to 8,000 in attendance at the games. The local team had been fighting for six years to have the pleasure of hosting the finals and after 18 months of organization their hard work paid off.
President of the GAA Liam O’Neill spent the weekend at the Finals. He told IrishCentral, “It’s been a fantastic weekend, at a fantastic venue. I haven’t seen anything as well organized before. Cleveland have done a fantastic job, every credit to them.”
Although the atmosphere at the sports ground was one of family fun and partying the focus of the weekend was North America’s passion for the GAA and the skill on display.
O’Neill said, “The standard of game here is great, to see so many people born in America playing our games so well, particularly hurling and camogie.”
He continued, “The enthusiasm that the Americans bring to the games is just fascinating.
“The level of skill has been amazing. I saw a catch today by a young fella called Teddy, from Milwaukee, and it’s the best catch I’ve ever seen in a hurling match. Because they’re so athletic they do different things with the ball that we wouldn’t even dream of.”
The President continued, “It’s great to see hurling played with a kind of abandon and it’s a breath of fresh air to watch.”
The Gaelic games in the United States are growing “exponentially” according to O’Neill and Aileen Lawlor, the Camogie President, said this development is visible year on year.
Lawlor, who has attended three NACB Finals, gave an example of the growth visible on the ground. She told IrishCentral, “I did a coaching workshop last year and I just watched a game where there were three of the girls who had attended playing. The best thing is they’re doing what they were shown.
"Their team came here last year with not enough numbers so they actually amalgamated with their twin city. This year they both came back with their own teams. That just shows you the growth.”
“It’s the small things here, things that we take for granted at home. People who have only taken up the GAA as adults, it doesn’t come as easily to them. They really are fantastic in their appreciation for any help we give them.”
The Irish community in Cleveland has certainly shown that they care about the GAA in their area. In fact Owens said they actually had too many volunteers and he’s been bowled over by the community’s interest in the games.
Local media has shown interest too. Owens told IrishCentral, “The media attention we’ve had this week in Cleveland, the GAA couldn’t have paid for it. I think I’ve been interviewed by every TV channel in the city this weekend. Every paper is covering it and our website traffic has been phenomenal.”
Owens has really been pushing the event putting everything he had into marketing and social media. In fact he has done such a great job that the NACB Finals 2013 corporate sponsors Skylight Financial Group gave him a full time job last month.
Lawlor said, “You have to see the NACB Finals to believe it, I tell people back home. The commitment level, the organization, it’s not like anything we see Ireland.
“You feel that GAA passion. You meet new friends at events like these who would never meet otherwise. It really is the GAA family coming together.”