When Jerry Padian took his family to his ancestral home in Ireland for a summer vacation, the last thing he expected his kids to bring back to New York was a love for Gaelic football.
Padian, the co-founder of the Setanta Gaelic football club in the Westchester town of Katonah, says he has always been interested in the Irish national sport. “I was intrigued by the sport; my roommate in college was always playing,” he told the Irish Voice during a recent interview.
Playing Gaelic football with other kids in Roscommon during their summer vacation, Padian’s children quickly developed a skill for the intricate game.
“My son and daughter caught onto Gaelic football when they were over there and they played for Strokestown,” Padian said.
It was this interest displayed by his kids that prompted the New York-born attorney to establish a GAA club in his locality in Northern Westchester.
Working alongside his friends John Myers, Mark Flanagan, Mike Drude and John Albert, the men soon established what is now known as Setanta Gaelic football club in 2009.
“All our kids are around the same age, we started with about 20 kids and began practicing,” says Padian.
“The kids love it!” he reflects. “It was really intuitive and it all just took off. Within two months we were in the league fielding teams.”
Katonah in Northern Westchester is a tight knit community, a fact that Padian says helped the sport to flourish.
“The kids were all talking about it,” he says. “My daughter came home from school one day and told me that a boy was talking about it.
“Then the school’s gym teacher came to watch a match and he started talking about it in class. It was extraordinary.”
From there the club began to go from strength to strength, it now boasts well over one hundred registered members, with people from varied backgrounds expressing an interest in Ireland’s national sport.
“The majority of the kids have no connection to Ireland,” says the president of Setanta GAA club.
Much like the children who got involved, Padian himself is gushing with enthusiasm for the sport.
“It’s a fantastic exciting sport, it blows away soccer,” he says, adding that the most difficult aspect for the kids is soloing the ball.
Testament to the community spirit of the locality and the ethos of the GAA, all those involved do so on a voluntary basis and in their spare time.
Simon Gillespie, the New York GAA games development officer, paid tribute to the dedication of GAA clubs such as Setanta who are committed to the growth of the Irish sport in the U.S.
“A lot of people have an amazing commitment to the sport in the Irish community in New York,” says Gillespie.
“They spend countless hours developing the GAA over here and without this contribution we wouldn’t be the strongest GAA unit outside of Ireland.”
Testament to this, Padian says that Setanta’s volunteers are vital to its growth.
“We have a really good board and they are very active. Ollie Bracken who once played for Offaly does a lot of coaching and everyone chips in,” he says.
Just this past St. Patrick’s Day, Setanta held their annual fundraiser which helped the club generate enough revenue to keep them going for the next year.
“Every business donated something, from the local spa, restaurants, the wine store, the golf course and then we had a silent auction,” says Padian.
“We had Irish music and the food was donated by Patricia’s in the Bronx. The community really comes out to support us and as a result we don’t have to charge the kids membership fees,” says Padian.
With all the hard work and countless hours of training, seeing the kids enjoy the fruits of their labor is where the real pay off comes.
“We won the under-8 tournament last fall and that was the epitome of everything we have been working for, everything these parents have helped with,” says Padian.
“I had tears in my eyes!”