The visit of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) to New York last week represented the organization's first big step in establishing a support network for the GPA’s Player Development Program aimed at improving the lives of our amateur county hurlers and footballers.
A hugely successful event at the New York Athletic Club featuring Kilkenny hurling legend Henry Shefflin and Dublin footballer Ger Brennan was the focal point of the GPA’s trip, aiming to raise awareness for the Player Development Program and its importance for the future of Gaelic games.
With the assistance of the American Ireland fund, fans of Gaelic games and guests from a variety of backgrounds gathered to hear the players tell their stories of a glorious season just finished and the importance of the GAA to their lives.
While engaged in the passion, excitement and humour of the All-Ireland final experience, guests also heard how the economic crisis continues to threaten the delicate balance of Ireland’s indigenous sports.
However, the backdrop to the visit was a series of meetings with interested parties and the establishment of an advisory group in New York to assist the GPA in its efforts to generate support for our Player Program.
The Program, introduced last year with the support of the GAA, provides critical services to amateur players, assisting them with their education, career development, health and well-being, life skills and benevolent support for those in serious difficulty. The Program design has been based on a significant research project into international best practice into supports for elite athletes.
From the GPA perspective it was a hugely rewarding visit as we met with universal good will and positive backing for our work and our story.
There was also a palpable sense of excitement. Photo shoots of the players with the Sam Maguire and Liam McCarthy Cups at city landmarks were frequently interrupted by surprised fans and inquisitive New Yorkers alike.
The GPA has always championed the fact that our members, the players, are remarkable role models and ambassadors for their sport and, evidenced by our few days in New York, for their country.
Another feature of the trip of course was a visit with Speaker Christine Quinn who welcomed us to her offices on Broadway with open arms. With staff gathered and listening attentively, the GPA delegation spoke about, the challenges that our amateur players now face and the purpose of our trip to New York. The Speaker’s insight into the importance of our games and our players to Irish society was quite impressive and she graciously offered her support.
The Chairman of the New York GAA Board, Larry McCarthy arranged for the players and two famous trophies to travel to the Shannon Gaels club in Queens where the efforts of grass roots GAA people in the city were visible as young players from the club gathered in large numbers to meet us. It is envisaged that the GPA’s continuing presence in New York will be of mutual benefit to the GAA in the city.
The next day it was the turn of the East Bronx to welcome the party as we landed in St. Raymond’s as they prepared to play Long Island Gaels in an under 10 game. Both these visits added enormously to the experience for the GPA delegation.
Meanwhile, invited guests in the New York Athletic Club last Thursday were enthused by the idea that the GPA has now created a solid support structure aimed at sustaining and protecting the county player’s contribution to Gaelic games and indeed to Irish society.
The importance of the GAA and the GAA player to Irish sport and culture, particularly now with the threat of emigration and deepening social problems, was highlighted throughout the evening and indeed was the important subtext of our trip.
Also noted was the GPA’s work in the area of social initiatives such as the prevention of suicide, unfortunately a serious crisis in Ireland particularly among young men.
Fronted by GPA chief executive and chairperson Dónal Óg Cusack, the GPA will continue to promote its work and the long-term sustainability of its Player Development Program in the US.
Assisting county GAA players with their off-field lives can help secure the future health of Gaelic games. The challenge for the GPA is to ensure that we can continue to deliver that support into the future.
There are many people we would like to sincerely thank for making this visit highly productive. None more so than Kieran McLoughlin of the American Ireland Fund and the members of our advisory group which had its inaugural meeting on Thursday. We look forward to their ongoing support and indeed the support of others as we continue on this journey.