Connie Doolan

The New York hurling side that represented the city on the international stage over the years has had many outstanding days. The team that went to the Ulster final in recent times holds a special place, and the panel that beat Kilkenny in the world championship cup over two legs in 1969 also ranks high on the list.

But it is the team that defeated Wexford in the St. Brendan Cup in 1958, 50 years ago this month, that holds pride of place. The cost of airfare has gone through the proverbial roof while the stock market prices of some companies have dropped back to 1950 prices.

It is looking back at the historic days of the fifties when New York was booming, with houses being built at unparalleled rates of an average of one a day on Long Island and Ireland's men and women coming to America in thousands, that we arrive at the booming period of Gaelic Park.

At the time a return flight to Ireland was being advertised at $408 return with O'Hara Travel Agency on 95th and Broadway. At McNiffs Irish Dancing School on 88th Street classes were on every Sunday with children at 1 p.m., and adults at 3 p.m.

John Kerry O'Donnell was back in as president of the GAA after a two-year hiatus, and Cork would win their eighth hurling title, with Leitrim winning their third football championship.

It was the decade of the Cadillac with tailfins, wrap around windshields and stylized bumpers and grills all introduced. Of course the fifties were also filled with heartache as the Irish and Irish American community lost far too many of our numbers in the Korean War. It was a special time in all senses of the word.

The hurling world was in its prime in New York in this decade, with some of the greatest displays in the history of the Gaels coming at this time. The city has had teams in competition with Ireland with the Tailteann Games of the twenties and thirties.

There was participation in the National League in the early fifties and right through the sixties, with one revival in 1989. New York also took part in the St. Brendan Cup from 1954 until 1960.

This was a special tournament where New York took on the National League winners in football and hurling in the September and October months, with the home venue alternating each year.

The hurling squad lost to Cork in the Polo Grounds in New York on October 31, 1954, 7-08 to 3-10, and to Tipperary in Croke Park on October 9, 1955 by 4-17 to 4-7.

After a bye year they had a close battle against Tipperary in 1957 when the host team lost 4-4 to 2-14 at the Polo Grounds, and the stage was set for a tilt with Wexford in 1958.

At this time the team that had been assembled in New York was in many opinions both then and now one of the greatest ever. At least four of the starters had played in the All-Ireland senior final - Billy Duffy and Paddy Egan for Galway in '55, Norman Allen for Dublin in '52 and Paddy Dowling for Cork in '56.

Martin Murphy was on the Connaught Railway Cup team, Mickey Furlong was in demand in both codes in Offaly and played on the NY football team that went down to Dublin three weeks after the hurling contest. Ken Croke was on the Galway Minor final team in '55, while Sean O'Meara represented Tipperary.

The stage was set then for the visit to Croke Park to take on the might of Wexford in 1958, 50 years ago this year.

The game was played on September 14 with legendary announcer Michael O'Hehir's words being transmitted across to New York via radio. The Irish Echo published both lists of players the week previous to the game to allow the listeners the opportunity to follow along without missing a beat.

Some of the players were household names already, however, with Wexford annexing the All-Ireland titles in '55 and '56. The National League titles in '56 and '58 and the Oireachtas tournament of '53, '55 and '56 went their way as well.

Five Leinster titles in a 10 year span created a juggernaut. Nicky Rackard was manager, while brother Willie, Padge Kehoe, Dick Murphy, Jim Morrissey and Jim English all had pivotal positions.

New York was undaunted, however, with the opposition that beckoned. At the time local hurling was deemed a harder variety than Ireland's with a crisp bite to their game.

They put on a truly heroic performance against their esteemed opponents and defeated them 3-8 to 3-7 in a thrilling game at Croker. They built a substantial lead in the first half with a seven point advantage at the short whistle, 2-6 to 0-5.

Norman Allen and Michael Hennessy had their first two scores from frees, and Eamonn Prendergast had their third from play. After the sides swapped scores Prendergast had the first goal of the game when he was first to a rebound after a Pat Egan shot.

Johnny Heron had their second major before the break and added the third three minutes after it. Bold scoring from a player who had come on as a sub when Mick Furlong had to leave the field with a hand injury.

When Brendan Hennessy was asked recently did he see what happened to Furlong, he remarked, "Croke Park is a big field and I had my hands full with Ned Wheeler! So no I didn't."

Furlong was the older brother of Martin and Tommy who both played for Offaly, with Martin winning three All-Irelands. Wexford did their best to claw back into the contest, and goals by Padge Kehoe (two) and Dick Murphy brought the deficit to the minimum.

It would have been unjust after trailing by 10 points at one stage for the Wexford men to have pulled a result from the fire.

While there were stars across the board for New York on their historic day, the Irish Independent rated Mike Hennessy and his brother Brendan from Ballyduff in Kerry as players of the week for their following issue. Both were outstanding on the day and led the team from the front for the outstanding win.

New York's football team followed the hurlers to Ireland for a game against Dublin on October 5. They went down by two points, 2-6 to 1-7, in a nail biter.

The game had its controversy, however, as according to witnesses and newspaper reports at the time a legitimate penalty for New York was called as a free out with minutes left on the clock and New York advancing.

The New York lineout (with their local clubs) for the hurling contest was: 1 Paddy Fleming (Tipp), 2 Paddy Dowling (Cork), 3 Jimmy Carey (Tipp), 4 P.J. Birmingham (Offaly), 5 Dave De Loughery (Kilkenny capt.), 6 Martin Murphy (Galway), 7 Kevin Long (Limerick), 8 Brendan Hennessy (Kilkenny), 9 Michael Hennessy (Kilkenny), 10 Ralph Prendergast (Limerick), 11 Billy Duffy (Galway), 12 Norman Allen (Cork), 13 Mickey Furlong (Offaly), 14 Sean O'Meara (Tipp), 15 Paddy Egan (Galway). Subs: Paddy Heron (Kilkenny), Brendan Dolan (Offaly), Jim "Balbo" O'Connell (Offaly), Connie Doolan (Cork), Mike Minogue (Tipp), J. Carney (Clare), Ken Croke (Galway). The manager was Peter McDermott. Selectors were John Leahy (Kerry) and Tim Cloen, while the trainer was Mickey Connell.

The GAA in New York will honor the 1958 team in a special setting that befits this historic squad. A committee is being set up with a view to using half time during the 2009 Connaught Championship en-counter between Mayo and New York in May. It will be a just reward for one of the greatest teams in New York's history.