Dessie Farrell, Niall O'Dowd, Ciaran Murray CEO of ICON, and Donal Og Cusack
at the NYC gala dinner

PHOTOS - The Gaelic Players Association Awards and Gala Dinner in New York 2013, in pictures

It was an exceptional night at the Gaelic Players Association awards at the New York Athletic Club on Thursday last.

The GPA has quickly become a major force both in Ireland and America and the 500 who attended the organization's second annual dinner was adequate proof of that.

There were Wall Street titans, construction magnates, community leaders, top sportsmen and a star-studded delegation from Ireland, including leading members from this year's All-Ireland winners from Dublin and Clare.

The GPA has transformed the lives of many young men and women in Ireland. It offers a sounding board and outreach for players and young men and women in trouble.

In an era where suicide and depression and such issues have become major problems in the Emerald Isle their work is desperately important.

Much of their work is with elite former players who find it very hard to adjust when the cheering stops. Unlike in America, where retired sports stars have massive nest eggs thanks to the huge contracts they got as players, Irish players are amateurs and face into uncertain futures after giving their lives to Gaelic games.

On the day of the dinner there were two stories in the Irish newspapers, one involving a player recovering from a desperate gambling addiction with the help of the GPA, the other about a former top player who discovered during a heart scan, first introduced for all players thanks to GPA pressure, that he needed immediate major bypass surgery.

Such stories are merely the tip of the iceberg for the GPA and its top team is led by Cork hurling legend Donal Og Cusack and former Dublin star Dessie Farrell.

Here in America the GPA first made an impression last year when they volunteered teams of workers in the Rockaways to help with the recovery from Superstorm Sandy.

Their work was widely praised, including an extraordinary mention by President Obama during his speech at the White House during the St. Patrick’s period.

The honorees on the night were Ciaran Murray CEO of ICON, a major Irish drug company that has helped out GPA enormously and myself.

I told my story of how the GAA helped me start my life in America. When I came here in the late '70s I had no immediate relatives to go to.

But when I got off the plane I had a job, a bed and group of friends thanks to the St. Mel’s Club in Chicago and its chairman, Kerry man Joe Gleeson.

The same thing happened when I moved to San Francisco, where the San Francisco Gaels helped set up my life there for six wonderful years.

Without the GAA I would never have been able to put together the Irish network that eventually helped me start my career in publishing.

My story is a very common one concerning Irish lads coming to America looking for that first, and most vital, leg-ups.

Today the very same thing is happening every summer. Wherever the young Irish go they still find in the GAA a welcome home and a chance at a new experience.

The GPA is the Delta Force of the GAA, reaching out and extending its boundaries and informing its decision-making in key and important ways.

It was great to attend their event, even better to be an honoree this year. The GPA is simply the best new organization out of Ireland in a very long time.

PHOTOS - The Gaelic Players Association Awards and Gala Dinner in New York 2013, in pictures