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The grounds at the Irish Cultural Center of New England, in Canton, MA, were looking in immaculate shape for the North American Finals over Labor Day weekend. There were three days of games, 120 teams, and 2,500 players competing for the county finals in several grades of men’s and ladies gaelic football, hurling, and camogie. Senior dignitaries traveled from Ireland to witness the largest gaelic games event outside of Ireland, and get a first-hand look at the main event in the calendar of the GAA in North America. President, Liam O’Neill, President elect, Aoghan O’Fearghuil, and Camogie chairperson, Aileen Lawlor were present for the three day event to witness the fruits of the efforts of the exiles and enthusiasm and passion that the native born Americans have for the games of the gael. Local teams ended up with a haul of 7 national trophies, while Ulster of San Francisco made it three in a row in the final game on Sunday.
It was all action all the time from eight on Friday morning till 5:30 on Sunday evening. With teams representing all parts of the United States and Canada, as well as the Cayman Islands, the event truly represents North American GAA. The hurling clubs of St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis continue to impress while the more traditional strongholds of the GAA in North America, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, were well represented. Of course, the Boston teams and supporters were out in force and by the time we reached the finals day there were still nine of the original 14 teams that entered the competition still standing and in with a chance of a national championship.
Donegal junior Bs fell at the first hurdle to Setanta by a goal, while the Shannon Blues were well beaten on Saturday by Washington DC. There were two teams entered into the Division 2 football competition, which is an Intermediate or Senior B level championship. The first was an American Born selection that fell to Kevin Barry’s of Philadelphia on Saturday morning, while a team made up mostly of the Cork junior A team, along with some additions from other clubs, were defeated by Vancouver. Fr. Tom Burke’s let a place in the final against local rivals Galway slip through their hands. Leading by eleven points against Naomh Padraig of San Francisco in the second half, Tom’s conceded 3 goals and failed to make much of an impact in the final 15 minutes of the game. The San Franciscans celebrated a great comeback win while Tom’s were stunned at the final whistle.
On other fronts the news was better. There would be representation in all hurling grades. Galway came through in their semi-final against Toronto, while Wexford beat a mostly American born Indianapolis outfit in the junior A semi-final. Barley House Wolves advanced to the junior B final, and Worcester earned a crack against St. Louis in junior C. The Tir na nOg ladies advanced with a one sided win over San Francisco, and Boston Shamrocks defeated Pittsburgh at junior level. Eire Og made the camogie final with a good win over Baltimore, while the Shannon Blues senior footballers eventually shook off as stiff challenge from Chicago St. Brendan’s and Donegal beat Sons of Boru in the junior A final to set up a Sunday with plenty of local interest.
Worcester Capture First NACB Title
The day began at the crack of dawn with Worcester taking on St. Louis in the junior C hurling final. Worcester captured their first North American championship with a 3-7 to 1-6 victory over St. Louis. Worcester got off to a great start and were ahead at the half, but as the game wore on the scores dried up for the local side. The defence was called upon to hold the line and prevent Worcester from denting what was a 2 goal lead over the final 10 minutes. An insurance point came from Liam Kelly. With three scores between the teams and the anticipation mounting the final whistle was met with unbridled joy.
Junior A Football Final
Donegal junior A footballers were crowned junior A football champions following an objection against Chicago’s John McBride’s. Having lost out by a score of 0-17 to 3-9 it was ascertained that McBride’s fielded a player who was sent off in the previous day’s senior match with St. Brendan’s. It really should not have come to that as having led at one point by nine points, Donegal conceded two goals and five points in the final 10 minutes to see their hopes dashed.
The Chicago side netted an early goal and Donegal battled back. Owen Grant, Pauric McLaughlin and Christy McLaughlin pulled their side back with points, though the Mid-western team, it must be said, were guilty of some wayward shooting. Jonathan Byrne was a busy man between the posts for Donegal and on a couple of occasions scrambled to prevent a second Chicago goal. With Donegal making better use of their chances the home side went in leading by a score of 0-9 to 1-3 at the break.
The second half saw Donegal open up the lead to nine points. Donegal enjoyed most of the possession with Dean Kelly and Mark Dunphy moved the ball well in the middle of the field. Outscoring their opponents seven points to one over the following 15 minutes Donegal looked to be cruising. Chicago looked dangerous when in possession. The visiting side pulled back a goal, and following that Byrne made two fantastic saves. The writing was on the wall however. The high ball into the corner forward was proving a successful tactic and a third goal went in to reduce the gap to two points. With Chicago winning every kickout and Donegal now struggling to win any sort of possession three points on the trot saw the boys from the Windy City take the cup at the death.
Junior A Hurling Final
The junior A hurlers of Wexford faced a very strong looking Vancouver side in the junior A hurling final. Wexford were up against it from the beginning. An early goal from the Canadians was followed by the loss of Brian Dalton to a red card and the home team were chasing the game the rest of the way. Wexford could not dent the a three point differential and Vancouver captain Tommy Burke was gracious in his victory speech after accepting the trophy from Liam O’Neill.
Things got off to a bad start for Wexford with Brian Dalton getting sent off for a reckless challenge. Vancouver had got off to a great start by contrast with an early goal from Wille Donnellan. Wexford pulled closer thanks to some accurate free taking by Dave Power. A golden chance at a goal went awry when Jamie Keogh’s penalty effort went wide of the posts. The Boston side did draw level, and were fortunate to see a Vancouver goal waved off for a square ball. The Canadians finished the half the stronger side with three points on the trot to lead 1-6 to 0-6 at the break.
Another goal early in the half by Donnellan for Vancouver proved to keep their noses ahead throughout the second half. Wexford drew within a goal following four points on the trot from Power frees. The key for Vancouver was to maintain a clean sheet in the goals column and the visiting side accomplished that part of their mission. With Peter Ryan ploughing a lonely furrow inside the 21 the prospects for Wexford were not good. The sides traded points as Vancouver matched some long range efforts by Wexford with some well taken efforts of their own.
Ladies Senior Football Final
Tir na nOg met Aisling Gaels of Chicago in the Ladies senior football final and claimed the national title that they came so close to in San Francisco two years ago. After a tight start to the game Tir na nOg got into the rhythm that they have shown all season and ended up comfortable winners by a score of 3-14 to 1-6.
After falling behind by two early points from the Chicago outfit the Brighton side got the boost to put them on track with a Jenny Byrne goal. Chicago almost made amends, but Niamh Hynes made a superb save from a close range shot. After the visitors leveled the scores to make it a one goal to three points game, Tir na nOg took over. With the midfield of Jane Moore and Ciara O’Connor doing well, Shauna Jackson, Lisa Leonard and Byrne converted points while Caroline Nee goaled after her first attempt was saved. At the break it was a 2-6 to 0-3 lead for the home side.
Hynes was alert to dangerous ball on a couple of occasions to make sure that a comeback would not be on the cards. The Brighton ladies picked up in the second half where they left off the first, on top in most positions and defending in numbers when the situation required it. Leonard, Jackson and Byrne pointed before Nee netted her second and her team’s third goal. With the game entering the final quarter and Tir na nOg holding a 13 point lead it began to look academic. Chicago continued the battle and added a couple of points to the tally, but at that stage a minor miracle would be needed.
Boston Shamrocks made it two fro two for Boston on the ladies football front with a close run victory over St. Mike’s of Toronto in the junior A final. The home side came out on the right side of a 3-13 to 2-14 final to capture the first North American title since the seniors took the cup in Philadelphia in 2003.
Senior Football Final
Shannon Blues 0-9 Ulster 2-15
Shannon Blues met Ulster, the reigning champions, in the senior football final. Ulster retained the North American championship with room to spare, and in doing so won their third in a row. Two first half goals set Ulster on their way, and in the second half a loss of personnel for the Blues due to disciplinary issues made it all the easier for the San Francisco side in the end.
After a two points to no score start for the Blues, life became difficult for the Boston champions. Liam Connerton netted for Ulster after the San Francisco team opened up the Blues defence. Greg Loughran added a point before Mike Brosnan pulled one back for the Blues. Ulster opened up the Blues defence on several occasions, and at one point hit the crossbar. The Ulstermen had to settle for points but a second goal was on the cards and it came from Luke Kelly.
The Blues had to work hard to generate scores. Much of the ball that went in to the danger area was dealt with by the Ulster defence. Steven Coogan free kicks kept the Blues side of the scoreboard ticking over. Sean Moriarty and Luke Kelly traded points before the break to make it 2-8 to 0-6 in Ulster’s favour at the half.
Ulster extended their lead in the second half with a couple of quick points from Jason Lennon and Harry Og Conlan. Things did not improve from the perspective of the home side after Cathal Long was shown a black card for a reckless challenge on Luke Kelly. After Daly and Kelly added to the differential, Sean Moriarty was sent to the line. With Ulster leading by double digits and the Blues already struggling the rest was fairly predictable. Ulster retain the national title, and for the Blues it is still a missing place in the trophy cabinet after the fourth attempt.
Blues: C. Wallace, C. Long, T, Wallace, D. Clifford, J. Walsh, D. McElligott, S. Moriarty, K. Byrne, S. Kavanagh, D. Treacy, M. Brosnan, D. Wallace, S. Coogan. Ulster: D. Devlin, G. Hannigan, C. Pike, P. Duffy, P. Bonny, D. Murphy, G. Loughran, C. Daly, L. Kelly, A. McKenna, M. McCartan, L. Connerton, H. Conlan.
Senior Hurling Final
Galway 3-13 Naomh Padraig 2-11
Galway made amends for last weekends defeat to Fr. Tom’s with a well earned victory in the NACB final against a game Naomh Padraig from San Francisco. Galway led from 15 minutes in and the closest that their opponents got was 5 points in the second half. Rory Hickey at center forward played a great 60 minutes, while Chris Murphy won the John Hehir player of the tournament trophy. On an additional note, American Born Dan Swetland had a senior hurling medal to go with his junior C won earlier in the day.
Galway asserted themselves once the first half got going and some accurate free taking by Rory Hickey, and a John Moylan goal had them eight points to the good at the break. After taking a five points to one lead, Galway were hit with a Robert O’Donnell goal. O’Donnell, who played with Tipperary in Boston last season, swung one handed to land the ball into the corner of the Galway net. Dave Concannon and O’Donnell followed with a point each and the westerners were level mid way through the period. Galway then went on a run of a goal and seven to a single point from San Francisco. With Skehill’s puckouts dropping just outside the San Fran 21 and Hickey under them, things were going Galway’s way. Moylan’s goal came a few minutes before the break and Galway were looking good coming into the second half.
There were two goals in it with 10 minutes to go, though the side from the City by the Bay had come back from larger odds the previous day. O’Donnell had got behind the Galway defence for a second goal, and again two points followed to cut the gap by five. Both sides worked hard, Galway to keep the lead and Naomh Padraig to reduce it. Chris Murphy at wing back for Galway did well, and Galway closed down the opposing side. Moylan and Skehill each put superb points over the bar. Moylan’s was a sideline from 45 yards and Skehill’s a booming from inside his own 65. With Galway leading by nine points things started to get a little heated. JJ Doyle was shown red and Robert O’Donnell yellow.
Two late goals from pat Ahearne and Dan Wallace made sure that Galway would be kings of North America for the first time since 2003.
Galway: J. Skehill, P. Dowling, M. Lennon, JJ Doyle, C. Murphy, J. Kinsella, P. Holden, G. Malone, R. Hickey, P. Ahearne, J. Moylan, T. O’Hanrahan, D. Wallace. N. Padraig: J. Burke, C. McDonagh, D, McGreal, C. Clince, P. Moban, D. O’Connor, T. O’Brien, M. Sheehan, J. Ryan, R. O’Donnell, D. Concannon, J. Bergin, B. Burke.
In the senior camogie championship with a -7 to 0-9 victory over Toronto, while the Barley House Wolves fell to San Jose in the junior B hurling by a score of 1-13 to -15.