|GPA Chairman Dónal Óg Cusack pictured with GPA Chief Executive Dessie Farrell|
A new era dawned for the GAA Ireland’s leading sporting organization in a New Yorkhotel last night.
The first annual dinner of the Gaelic Players Association, the umbrella group for all the 2,500 top athletes in Gaelic football and hurling, was a smashing success with over 400 prominent Irish Americans as well as the All-Star teams from Ireland.
More importantly however, the New York dinner signaled a fresh assault by Ireland’s leading sporting organization on the lucrative overseas market where tens of thousands already play their games.
Also present last night was GAApresident Liam O’Neill who spoke about the new effort to spread Irish games worldwide on the wings of emigrants and the GAA’s legendary amateur status.
Though their players fill arenas as big as Yankee Stadium, the players are unpaid and in many cases,out of pocket as a result of giving their all for Ireland’s premier sports.
It is an incredible achievement and story that deserves far greater coverage and acknowledgement over here. Playing for the love and not the money is a foreign concept in big time sport anywhere in the world except Ireland.
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Ireland’s greatest athlete is Henry Shefflin who has nine hurling all Ireland medals, the equivalent of 9 super bowl rings -- but by day he is a bank employee making a relatively modest wage.
Guest of honor on the night was Donald R. Keough, the former top Coca-Cola executive who has done more to ensure bonds between Ireland and America remain closer than ever than anyIrish Americanalive.
He was the one, as a former Chairman of Notre Dame and founder of the Keough Naughton Irish Institute there, who was the prime mover behind Notre Dame playing in Ireland this year-- and what an incredible success that was.
Now the GAA has come to play in America and based on the overwhelming success of the GPA players first dinner, there is a bright future ahead.
The games of hurling and Gaelic football are thrilling, fast moving, and can hold their own with any games on earth. With such a plethora of sports networks now here in America it seems a wonderful opportunity to spread the games of the Gael to new worlds.
The first steps for that American presence were taken in the Marriot Marquis Hotel in New York’stheater district last night. The GAA are finally going Broadway.