"The biggest game in our calendar year"! New York City's finest, NYPD and the FDNY go head to head at Rockland GAA’s Center of Excellence

It has become a tradition to carve out a day in which Irish Americans in New York City and the tri-state area watch two old rivals take the field and do battle over a size five O’Neill’s football.  You won’t find them in the New York GAA’s playoff formats in September, but the consequences of winning or losing are right there for both sides to see.

On Saturday, September 14, the FDNY and the NYPD will take the pitch at Rockland GAA’s Center of Excellence to continue a tradition and to continue the rivalry.

“It is the biggest game in our calendar year,” said Detective Pat Daly, first-year manager of the NYPD Gaelic Football Club.  “It’s the most must-win game.”

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Daly, a seven-year member of the NYPD currently working out of the Manhattan North Narcotics Division says, “It’s still a huge rivalry between the sides. It’s always been there but with so many guys who played underage football together or against each other, it adds another dynamic.

“I grew up in Ireland but had great-uncles who used to be on the NYPD. I grew up hearing stories of these guys walking a beat in New York City. To take part in this game now that I’m on the force, it means a lot to me.”

The game itself is for bragging rights. These two clubs will see each other again and again, and although nobody will want to back down and lose.

“It’s about the tradition,” says 18-year-veteran of the FDNY, Lieutenant Barry Annette of Ladder 23 in Upper Manhattan.

“This game has been going on since the 1950s.  It stopped for a little while, but eventually, it started back up again in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  It’s important to keep the tradition going and for both sides, it’s important to honor those who played for these clubs who are no longer with us.” Having the game played on the anniversary week of 9/11 has added a little more significance.

“The NYPD Gaelic Football Club retired the number 23 in remembrance of the 23 New York City police officers who died on 9/11. It’s a meaningful gesture that was important to us and I think the families of those who died,” says 29-year-old Police Officer Brian McGovern, working out of the Technical Assistance Response Unit in Queens.

“You hear those bagpipes play and it reminds us all of how guys sacrificed everything for this city.”

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Firefighter Tommy Fennell Junior of Engine 70 on City Island says it makes sense to play the game during this time of year.

“We used to try and do it in June, but with guys going away and availability of fields to play the game, it just happened to fall in September. I think it’s a happy accident,” he said.

“More than anything it acts as a welcome, upbeat event after the heaviness of the memorial services downtown and around the entire tri-state area.”

Fennell is no stranger to a police-fire rivalry having a detective as a father, Tommy Fennell Senior, who served 22 years in the NYPD and retired as a second-grade detective.

“It’s the best part of beating the cops – I can then give it to my father,” said Tommy Junior.

Third-year Police Officer Quinn Ferrin, working out of PSA 3 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, says the game itself never disappoints.

“It gets chippy out there at times. There’s bragging rights on the line and it’s a long year preparing and to lose, well, it’s devastating. You lose this one, you gotta wait a whole year to get back at them,” he says.

Ferrin, whose grandmother hailed from outside Cavan Town in Co. Cavan has been a member of the NYPD for five years.

“This game is big for us all and to have it on this week, it is a big deal. I was 11 when 9/11 happened, but the old-timers remind you of what we play for and it’s always in the back of your mind. You want to honor those who have come before you and we try by keeping up with this tradition.” Firefighter Billy Nolan has been involved in this game for over 20 years.

“It’s always a big game. It can get tough for sure. Both sides want those bragging rights – it’s a long year if you lose,” says Nolan, who retired in 2004 as president of the FDNY Emerald Society and continues in his role as club president of the FDNY Gaelic Football Club.

“I always loved this game,” he laughingly tells the Irish Voice. “This is the only chance we firemen get to beat up on cops.”  

The FDNY and NYPD will do battle this Saturday, September 14, at 5 p.m. All money raised by the FDNY will be donated to Firefighter Thomas Byrne of Engine 72 to help defray the cost of type 1 diabetes treatment.

All money raised by the NYPD will be donated to the family of Police Officer Chris “Clyde” Konecni who passed away last year. 

The Rockland GAA Center of Excellence is located at 160 Old Orangeburg Road in Orangeburg.  Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the gate.  Entertainment by the Narrowbacks is also included.

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