Friday marks a special date in the GAA calendar in New York when a group of the All-Ireland winning Dublin football team will be guests of honor at a special function in the New York Athletic Club.
Organised by the Dublin Gaelic Football Club New York, the fundraising dinner dance will be a celebration of Dublin’s achievement in landing the Sam Maguire for the first time in 16 years.
Among the visiting party will be Dublin manager Pat Gilroy along with star players Alan and Bernard Brogan, goal-scoring hero Kevin McMenamon, Rory O’Carroll, Michael Darragh McAuley, Paul Casey and Mick Fitzsimons.
With entertainment from legendary balladeers, the Dublin City Ramblers, who are travelling especially for the event, it promises to be a night to remember and likely to appeal to the wider GAA and Irish community in the Tri-State area.
Since Dublin’s dramatic victory over Kerry in the All-Ireland final in September there has been much debate in GAA circles about the importance of the win for the wider Association.
However, despite the dubious merits of a Dublin victory for football in somewhere like Leitrim, there is little doubt that it was a serious boost for the GAA’s on-going battle for hearts and minds in Ireland’s most densely populated region.
Over the past 10 years rugby has experienced considerable growth in the area particularly since Leinster have started to excel on the European Stage.
Once a minority interest, last Friday’s PRO12 League clash between Leinster and Munster attracted over 48,000 fans to Dublin’s Aviva stadium. As a brand Leinster rugby is only in its infancy but already it has huge appeal in the city with a substantial regular fan base.
Crowds like this would have been unheard of for a provincial rugby match in the past so Dublin’s success was timely for the GAA who, while enjoying great sporting relations with their rival code, must remain conscious of the need to compete.
And as if to prove the point Dublin’s county venue of Parnell Park was packed to capacity on Sunday for the Dublin club football final where St Brigid’s edged out the much-fancied St Oliver Plunketts Eoghan Rua.
Club matches, even finals, would rarely draw large attendances but on the back of an All-Ireland win in the county and several of the Dublin stars on show nearly 10,000 filled the north Dublin venue.
And since the All-Ireland final, the Sam Maguire Cup (which will of course be present at the NY Athletic Club on Friday) has been paraded to nearly every school and club in Dublin not to mention the odd hostelry.
This whirlwind tour around the city is a marketing dream for the GAA while at the same time it also reinforces the Association’s core message about the importance of its games to Irish community and social life.
The profile of many of the players too has blossomed in the wake of the victory which is essential if amateur Gaelic games are going to compete effectively with professional international sports and their well-funded marketing machines.
Ironically for the most marketable of them all, the talented Brogan brothers, Bernard, Paul and the 2011 Player of the Year, Alan, the celebrations will be tinged with a little sadness after they lost last Sunday’s county final in a gripping clash with their close rivals St Brigid’s.
And it was a contest that in many ways sums up what the GAA is and means to the city. Both Brigid’s and Plunketts clubs are next door neighbours on Dublin’s Navan Road with many of their players, supporters and club members living in each other’s backyards, quite literally.
Flags and colors intermingled as both communities drew the battle lines in the week leading up to the final.
Dublin team-mates like Bernard Brogan and Sean Murray went toe-to-toe on the field, this time with pride of parish and club at stake.
All of which made for a dramatic afternoon where Brigid’s, inspired by a wonderful performance from Dublin star Barry Cahill, struck late to claim the coveted county title considered by many players to be on a par with winning a senior All-Ireland with your county.
On front of a packed house, it made for a fitting end to the GAA season in the capital. St Brigid’s now go on to represent the county next Sunday against Meath winners Summerhill in the Leinster Club Championship.
Gaelic games may be amateur but for club and county stalwarts like Barry Cahill, a remarkable football season that commenced last January, rolls on.
Note: Tables at Friday’s dinner dance featuring the Dublin team are $2000 or $200 per guest. Contact [email protected] for details.