Irish American Dave Lewis shares his experience about taking up hurling in New York and winning an NY GAA Senior Hurling Championship this year

I am a fourth-generation Irish American who has been playing the ancient Gaelic game of hurling for the past four years. I was introduced to the “fastest game on grass” by another American, David Cosgrove, founder of New York GAA club the Hoboken Guards.

After just a weekend of playing and feeling the support the community gave someone that just picked up a hurley less than two days before his first match, I decided to start a club at my university.

After two years running the club and winning a sectional championship, and playing in a national championship, I saw my skills improving so much that I was able to play alongside the J-1ers that came over to play in the New York GAA Junior Championship with Hoboken.  As I kept honing my skills in games and training, I tried out and was selected to go to Dublin in 2016 as a member of the New York hurling squad that took part in the first ever Hurling World Championship.

Unfortunately, we lost in the championship in Croke Park by a goal. However, I was still able to receive a medal on the Hogan Stand.  Not many hurlers can say that.

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I was soon in a final again the next season as Hoboken made it to their sixth junior final in seven years in which we became finally were able to cross that line we had never had crossed before, winning the New York Junior Hurling Championship.

As we prepared for the 2018 season, the club was dreading promotion as a lot of our key players hung up their boots and achieved what they set out to achieve, and sure enough, we were promoted to senior this year. Good news came as we received word from some county players from Laois, Wexford, and finally, Tipperary who wanted to join us -- Ross King, Jack Guiney, and Cathal Barrett, some of the best hurlers in their respective counties.

During this season, we had a couple of hard-fought games with a lot of hard luck as some games had gone down to the wire and some not so much. After beating Ulster in the semifinal the senior hurling final was set and we were to play Tipperary New York. The result would become one of my fondest memories playing hurling.

August 12 will be held onto not only in my mind, but many a New York hurling fans minds as well as it was the date of one of the most exciting senior championships in recent years.  The Hoboken Guards defeated Tipperary Hurling Club New York 2-29 to 2-24 after two halves of extra-time. Once again, let me tell you the story of another final I witnessed right from the sidelines. 

It was a sunny, hot and humid day at Gaelic Park with the temperature reaching up to 95 degrees on the artificial pitch, far hotter from what players in Ireland would experience on county final day. There were even a few water breaks during the match. Hoboken last season had won the Junior Hurling Championship for the first time and were newly promoted to senior this year while Tipperary New York were no strangers to the Senior Hurling Championship. My teammates and I togged out and prepared ourselves for the coming fight against Tipperary New York as we previously lost to them by a point in a fiery match where a few hands were thrown.

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After warming up, the 15 men starting for both Hoboken and Tipperary lined up for the traditions of marching behind a piper as he played, and the singing of both the Irish and American national anthems.  The stage was set for the nail-biting theatrics that followed. 

From the get-go, the match was a contentious one as Tipperary scored two points to open the scoring.  But not soon after, Hoboken’s Jack Guiney scored the match’s first goal giving the Guards a small lead.

Throughout the first half, scores were tallied from all over the pitch, particularly from Michael Sheedy of Tipperary and Hoboken’s Ross King, both men who constantly won balls in both the air and on the ground.

Within just a few minutes all of us on the bench knew that this final would be a stressful one, especially after Tipperary’s Tom Phelan scored a goal making it 1-8 to 1-9 in Tipperary’s favor right before referee Alan Gleeson blew the whistle on the first half.

As we took the welcome break from the heat, we listened to manager Ger Morris’ concise instructions and his passionate, supportive words, knowing full well that we could win the championship for the first time in the club’s history.

The second half of the match was just as fierce and competitive as both teams were tit for tat scoring points one after another until around the 50th minute when it looked like Hoboken was getting a little weary and were off the mark while Tipperary took advantage and soon had their own lead, bring the points to 1-18 to 1-16 in their favor.

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That was until Hoboken’s captain and talisman Paul Loughnane came off the bench and lifted Hoboken’s spirits with a massive point. All of us on the bench were screaming at the top of our lungs and pumping our fists in the air as this man of the hour was bringing our fighting spirit back.

Following suit soon after, Paul Gordon and Barrett helped Loughnane claw our way back to being level.  We eventually took back the lead but then another piece of unexpected drama occurred.

As the clock was winding down with less than a minute to go the score was soon back to level as Sheedy scored a crucial point to tie the game bringing it into extra time. Tipperary had the emotional and physical momentum going into extra time.

Despite letting up a late point, my teammates and I strangely had this calm assurance that we would be able to pull the victory out in extra time as we all huddled into the corner where Lady Liberty silently watched the match.

Once again Morris had us on our feet primed and ready to go into the first 10-minute half of extra time. However, Phelan of Tipperary scored their second goal right away.

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We didn’t let that stop us from also scoring our second goal only a minute later as Barrett placed the ball into the back of the net. This goal pushed us over the line and brought our excitement and passion even higher on both the sideline and the field as more points began to come, and with 20 seconds left in the second half of extra time we were all primed and ready to storm the pitch, and to celebrate with the mighty hurlers we worked hard with all season to make this happen.

As soon as the whistle blew we sprinted out to our captain Loughnane who we affectionately call Dumper and jumped all over him as we became New York Senior Hurling champions one year after winning our first Junior Championship. It was surreal seeing county players like Cathal Barrett, Ross, King, and Jack Guiney surrounding me and the rest of the home-based Hoboken players celebrating, and while they are gods amongst men in Ireland, they were just a group of lads that wanted to play the game we all love while they were away from home.

Winning a senior championship in Gaelic Park must’ve made them feel proud to represent a home away from home, and it’s an experience I’ll remember all my life.

Do you play GAA in the US? Let us know where in the comments section, below.