The festive mood surrounding this weekend’s 100th anniversary celebration for the New York GAA was dampened on Monday with remarks made by GAA President Liam O’Neill claiming that New York could be eliminated from taking part in the Connacht Senior Football Championship every May.
“I don’t know what the future for New York is yet,” O’Neill said during an event marking the multi-million pound refurbishment of the GAA’s base in London. “I suppose the whole legality of people living in New York has to be settled first. I know the GAA is growing in North America.
“I don’t know whether you’ll see New York competing in the All-Ireland series or a world championship. I am not quite sure where the future is there.”
The New York GAA has taken part in the first round of the Connacht Championship, part of the All-Ireland series, since 2002 when Sligo were the inaugural visitors. The game takes place at the GAA’s home in Gaelic Park on the first Sunday of May and is one of the most anticipated outings on the local Irish American calendar.
Though the New York all-stars have yet to win a Connacht Championship match and have suffered heavy defeats in several outings, being ousted would prove to be both a financial blow as the game provides the largest gate receipts of the year, and damaging to local morale.
In response to a Tuesday morning inquiry by the Irish Voice, New York GAA Chairman Liam Bermingham issued a media statement questioning the wisdom of O’Neill’s words on the eve of the 100th New York GAA anniversary banquet set for Saturday, March 29 at Antun’s in Queens Village.
“I’m certainly disappointed by these comments,” Bermingham said. “The players have been putting in a lot of effort and we very much appreciate the hard work they have put in. To say the least, the timing is poor.”
This year’s Connacht visitors to New York are Mayo, runners-up in the last two All-Ireland championships. Though the local all-stars have been training extensively over the winter months, facing an elite Irish squad that plays together almost year-round will be hugely challenging.
O’Neill said that the lack of competition provided by the New York teams, and the travel distance, poses a problem.
“London have proven they can compete,” he added. “There are difficulties with New York’s distances and the juvenile clubs haven’t reached the same level of consistency. New York is a bit behind that.”
London also competes in the Connacht Championship and last year pulled off a huge upset when they reached the provincial final, beating Sligo and Leitrim along the way before falling to Mayo.
O’Neill will serve as GAA president until 2015. The president-elect, Aogan O Fearghail, is traveling to New York this weekend for the anniversary banquet. He will also take part in a public event at Rory Dolan’s in Yonkers on Sunday, March 30 at 3 p.m.
Bermingham said he wouldn’t raise the issue of New York’s exit from the Connacht Championship with O Fearghail.
“There are no plans to discuss this with the president-elect,” said Bermingham. “First and foremost, this is a conversation that must be had with the Connacht Council in the appropriate forum.”
Bermingham also poured cold water on the notion of the New York GAA participating in a possible world championship in the near future.
“That’s a concept we are not in a position to give full consideration to given many of our own players’ difficulties with immigration. If it were to be played in the U.S. we’d certainly look at it closer but it’s not a concrete idea by any stretch,” he said.
O’Neill said that New York would ultimately have a significant say in its future participation in the Connacht Championship. He also praised the development of the underage game here.
“We have some very significant developments. We have 700 children playing in Rockland, [and] Shannon Gaels, which I think is one of the most spectacular success stories of any of the GAA anywhere in the world,” said O’Neill.