It's a recent Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden in New York, and the New York Rangers are in battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Dressed in a Penguins sweatshirt, one female supporter is immersed in the hockey game. At a pivotal moment in the second period, she jumps from her seat and screams at the offending player, but her accent is difficult to place.
This enthused fan is not a New Yorker. Nor is she visiting from Pittsburgh.
This Penguins follower came all the way from Ireland.
Frances Meegan, originally from Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan is a diehard American sports fan. From baseball to hockey, basketball to football, the 30-year-old loves them all.
With annual season tickets for the New York Yankees and a love for all things American, how did a Monaghan woman become addicted to sport in the U.S.?
She recently told the Irish Voice how her passion began. Growing up in Monaghan, Meegan’s dad was a GAA football coach, so from a young age she was constantly exposed to sports.
“My earliest memory is of meeting George Best when Monaghan won the Ulster final in 1988. I was sitting on his knee and they took the ribbons from my hair to put on the cup.”
When Meegan arrived in New York in 1997, adopting American sports culture became second nature for the Monaghan woman.
“My dad and I used to go to Gaelic games every Sunday at home, sometimes up to three in one day alone, and I had that void to fill,” she says.
When she began working in a bar close to Madison Square Garden in the city, it opened up an entire new sports experience to her, a far cry from the football fields of Ulster.
“I worked across from the Garden when I first got here and my customers would invite me to hockey, basketball and even Yankee games! My cousins in Boston always have season tickets to the New England Patriots, so they started bringing me to games. My love affair with football began.”
While the vast array of American sports on offer may be a source of confusion for an average Irish person, Meegan quickly grasped the rules involved.
“There are so many rules and some of them are constantly changing, but I find the commentators are usually very good at explaining them, so the more you watch the more you learn!” she says.
Her favorite sports star at the minute, she admits, is Philadelphia Phillies baseball player Cliff Lee, who she commends for not being blindsided by money. Lee signed a deal last year to pitch for the Phillies instead of the Yankees, even though the New Yorkers were offering more money.
“Right now I admire Cliff Lee. He didn't let money take over when making his decision where to play. He took less money to play where he wanted to play. That doesn't happen often,” said Meegan.
Coming from a sporting culture in Ireland, where most athletes are unpaid, does the Irishwoman think American sports players are overpaid? Definitely, she says.
“It's starting to take over the game and becoming more individual sport than team sports. Everyone’s just out for themselves! But I think it's starting to be a global thing now, too especially with soccer,” she feels.
Years after her father introduced her to sports, Meegan has done the same for him.
“I bring my dad to games when he visits from Ireland. We went to a Yankees minor league game in Charleston and he was like a little kid asking a bunch of questions,” she says.
Despite her affinity for American sports, when asked if everyone in the world had to play one sport, Meegan’s patriotism shines through.
“Gaelic football was my first love so I have to go with that. As a sport it has everything -- action, a lot of scoring and passion for the game.”
Regardless of the lure of Meadowlands, the energy of Yankee Stadium and the familiarity of Madison Square Garden, this Monaghan woman remains committed to GAA.
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