\"Kilkenny

Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin Photo by: Google Images

GAA takes on US - 2011 GAA GPA Hurling All-Stars in San Francisco

\"Kilkenny

Kilkenny hurler Henry Shefflin Photo by: Google Images

THE GAA will arrive in the US in force today (Wed) as the 2011 GAA GPA Hurling All-Stars touch down in San Francisco.

The highlight of the visit will be next Sunday's clash of the 2011 v 2010 All-Star selections at Páirc na nGael, Treasure Island, home of the Gaelic Athletic Association in San Francisco.

An annual visit abroad has been a central part of the All-Stars scheme since the 1970s and has always been used by the GAA to reach out to its overseas units and the Irish Diaspora.

This is year is no exception and during the visit the GAA are teaming up with the 'Ireland Reaching Out' (Ireland XO) project  to launch a new initiative aimed at attracting members of the Irish Diaspora to Gaelic games worldwide.

The idea is to draw communities around Ireland to identify people abroad connected with their home place and introduce them, through the Ireland XO organization to the nearest GAA club. The aim is that after learning about Irish sporting culture, people will be encouraged to participate.

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Over 450 GAA clubs are now in existence outside of Ireland around the world and the project will be launched in San Francisco next Sunday by President Christy Cooney and Ireland XO Chairman Mike Feerick.

Leading members of the Irish technology community in Silicon Valley will also attend the event.  It is hoped that should the project prove successful in San Francisco, it will be rolled out to all GAA clubs worldwide.

However, while the GAA continues to attempt to broaden its reach by encouraging greater involvement among the Diaspora it might be equally fruitful for the Association to explore broadening the reach of the county games internationally, particularly in New York.

The GAA rightly focuses on grassroots development and continues to do wonderful work on the ground helping to establish new clubs and expand existing ones.

But there is a sense that there is another stone being left unturned. Television access to county games is too restrictive in the US, the showcase fixtures should be more easily available to viewers to help explore and attract new audiences. It s not an either-or scenario; growth in audiences for our games can only help the GAA s grassroots activity.

Whether there is a viable market for Gaelic games on mainstream sports channels or not is impossible to gauge at present but surely giving viewers - whether of an Irish background or not - the chance to witness the riveting spectacle of an county hurling championship clash in in all its passionate glory is surely worth a shot.

After all, I was able to sit in my north Dublin home and watch the Cardinals epic World Series over the Rangers on my standard cable TV package. The only cost was a couple of night s sleep.

Part of any such development of course would be to start looking, as it did in the 1940s and 1950s, at bringing high profile competitive games to New York on a regular basis, a league final or a clash of similar importance.

The benefit of free to air television coverage of our championships to Gaelic games in New York would be immense and there is no doubt that, long term, the potential for the NY Gaelic football team to become more competitive on the back of an expanding international market for our sports is obvious.

So, while the GAA continues to create new units on the ground around the world, maybe its time they looked at developing new markets for its county games as well and explored the untapped potential currently land-locked in Croke Park.

A small, if highly enthusiastic and committed crowd will travel to Treasure Island in San Francisco to watch the stars of hurling exhibit their skills on Sunday. For a few short hours we will celebrate our shared heritage.

Maybe the time is approaching in this global village to expand that celebration.

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