A group of Irish and Irish American soccer players are about to take part in one of the highest ranked amateur tournaments in New York.
The newly formed New York Irish Football Association, managed by Donegal man Paul Doherty, was established a few weeks ago to compete in the upcoming Copa New York tournament.
The Copa tournament is an annual multi-national soccer tournament consisting of 16 “national teams chosen from a selection of participating communities around the New York area, each representing their own culture and heritage.
From the Irish community 25 players were chosen, as well as selectors, coaches and a team president. ESPN soccer commentator and Co. Cork native Tommy Smyth is president of the Irish team.
In preparation for the big event -- the first games will kick off July 25-26, with the semifinals and final match on August 1 and 2 -- the team is training at Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers several times a week.
Doherty, 37, said most of the players were chosen at Tibbetts Brook Park last week.
“The team was chosen by trials, skills, fitness drills and they had to have a good sense of humor,” Doherty told the Irish Voice.
Doherty, who hails from Falcarragh, Co. Donegal, Willie Dempsey of the Irish Rovers and Robbie Walsh of the Irish Shamrocks selected the highly skilled team.
“Most of the players are first division New York league players who in the past may have played against some of the men they will be against next weekend,” said Doherty, who played with Irish team Finn Harps and has coached the Lansdowne Bhoys from the Bronx for the past five years.
Austin Friel has served time with Finn Harps in the eircom League in Ireland. Gareth McCrory played with Dungiven Swifts in the Irish League.
Also on the team is Alan O’Hara, who played with Clemson University in the national college leagues in the U.S. And both Declan Reilly and Conor Hunter are from the New York Empire team.
Former Manchester United player Kevin Grogan is also a strong presence on the team. He will assist Doherty in coaching and possibly play in the league.
On competing in at such a top amateur level, Doherty said it’s “nice.”
Looking at the bigger picture, he added, “Hopefully one of the lads or even more can get a second chance at being a professional soccer player.”
Scouts from MLS and the USL are expected to attend the Copa league.
The Copa NYC tournament format mimics that of the World Cup, on a micro-scale, with four groups of four teams each. Each country must play every other country in their grouping (three matches on day one).
Two countries from each group make it to day two based on a point system of wins, losses and draws. Ireland are in Group D along with France, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “By using soccer to promote health, community, and cultural awareness, the tournament will unite people of all nationalities in cheering on the diversity of New York and the world's favorite game."
In preparation for the tournament, the Irish team will take on England in a friendly at Tibbetts Park on Wednesday, July 22, at 8 p.m. at Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers.
The first match will take place at 9 a.m. this Saturday, July 25 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. Ireland’s first game is scheduled for 2 p.m. against Colombia, followed at 4:30 p.m. against France, and 5:45 p.m. against Trinidad and Tobago.