With 2009 now here, the last 12 months already seem like a lifetime ago. I don't know if that is age or experience talking, but looking forward is sometimes far more enjoyable than the actual doing in this crazy world of ours.
Last year the New York GAA had far more hills than valleys in its 365 fun packed days, and we will look back at both as we recollect over the sporting highlights of the last twelve months. Both personally and professionally it was jam-packed, with the year starting in the first week with the New York college team that did so well when it represented New York at the British university games in Birmingham. To train them was a privilege and a memory that will last forever as we pushed the eventual winners of our division, Manchester, all the way before bowing out. The lads did the Big Apple proud with some tremendous performances with Danny Hannon as manager. (We started training a couple of weeks ago for this year's competition).
Astoria Gaels, who I managed in '08, had their first game against that same squad, and we finished the year on a high note with a second defeat on the field of our long time nemesis Kerry in a thriller of a quarterfinal on a Saturday evening. I firmly believe that if the game went on for another two hours that we would not be defeated on that evening as we used one sub (it's all we had) for three blood injuries and kept moving ahead of the reigning county champs. When a player with a gash that eventually needed seven stitches says to you, "I am not coming off, just make it stop bleeding," you knew it was a day for the ages. The loss of that game in the courts will leave a sour taste for a long time, but as Pat Burke, a former county player for Galway told me in December, one of the reasons we stay in the GAA despite all the knocks is the fact that we meet far more people that we genuinely are delighted to meet, and they easily outnumber the ones that leave a negative mark on us.
What of the rest of the year? As in years past, we will look at some of the stories individually, but some items stick out munificently. Team of the year: Tyrone. Junior A champions, Junior A knockout champions. Joe Paterno said, "The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital." Fergus Daly had Tyrone as well prepared as any seen in New York in many a day. The fact that he had fantastic talent in his squad certainly helped, but they were drilled to perfection. They peaked at the semifinal and final stages with unbelievable showings. Their drills that they used as warm-ups should be the template that New York uses. No excuse not too.
Honorable mention to Kerry, the senior champs. Manager of the year: Paddy O'Connor of Kerry. His team lost two games in the court rooms in the middle of the summer, and it could have devastated the team. While it certainly helped that the Kingdom had one of the best talents to come across the pond in years in Stephen Kavanagh, it was the vocal Paddy who steered the ship and brought them to title glory. The former New York star pulled all the right strings against Cork in the semis, and a brilliant Down squad in the final. Honorable mention to Fergus Daly, Pat Scanlon of Cork, Mark Comerford with Offaly hurlers, and Pat Ryan with an overachieving St. Ray's team. Most exciting player: Stephen Kavanagh of Kerry. While the New York all-stars are given out to home based players and rightfully so, the Magic Man from Killanin in Galway was out on his own for the Kingdom as a 60-day sanction.
They do not take the county title without this player, no argument. Cool, calm and collected, he stands up with Eanna Kavanagh from Kerry, Padraig Kissane of Donegal and Eric Bradley of Stamford as the best I have seen in my years in the park from a football standpoint. Best individual performance: Barry McElduff of Tyrone. His four goals in the Junior A final were outstanding. Man of the match in the brilliant performance.
More who stood out were Michael Donnellon in his one appearance for Four Provinces. Stephen Brown for Offaly hurlers on a couple of occasions was phenomenal. Mike Higgins was good on a tough day against Galway in the FBD. Also, Kavanagh with 10 points in the county final against Down, and Molly O'Rourke's 3-5 against Cavan in the drawn county final. Score of the year: Paddy Tomo Smyth of Cavan. It was a laser to the net from 25 yards out in the Senior B final when the game was still on the line. With Cavan holding a slim lead (0-5 to 0-4), Tomo broke in on the right and had only one thing on his mind. He did not disappoint as he crashed a thunderbolt to the net at the Riverdale end. Willie O'Donnell had a wonderful goal in the Astoria -Kerry quarterfinal when he broke in on the left at the same end. The ball was in the net in a blink. Paul Broderick from Four Provinces kicked a point from the turf from over 72 yards out in front of the press box at the height of the summer. Conor O'Donnell put a sideline over from under the railway tracks on the 50 in another encounter. Weirdest game to be involved in: Cavan vs. Four Provinces in the pouring rain on Field Day Saturday. The ball was getting hard to see, but we ploughed on as both sides battled for the league points. Never again award: In a Junior A contest both sides were asked to produce all player IDs by the respective managers. It should never come down to that, and never needs to be seen again. Enough said.
Are you sure he is legal, yeah is your player legal? award: The executive board seemed to meet every three days to do another investigation. It went on all summer and put a dark cloud over the year's activities. Let he who hasn't sinned cast the first stone. I'll call it as I saw it, and only one team to my knowledge would hold a rock in hand. Don't worry, it wouldn't have been me. Can we get a do over, start again?: New York was never at the races against a poor Leitrim squad in the Connaught Championship this past year. Always considered the best opportunity to get a win against, the last contest five years ago went to extra time. It never happened this past year and the visitors cantered away. Mayo are on the horizon this May, and the All-Ireland champions of 1950 and 51 have already lost to a college squad in the FBD tourney. One will dream each season.
Can't wait for Sunday: The New York GAA is honoring the 1958 New York hurling squad that defeated Wexford in Croke Park, and the 1969 team that had wins over Kilkenny at halftime of the Connaught Championship encounter. Pencil it in, as the talent that will be on the field that day will be remarkable. There were probably quite a few reasons that New York was not invited into the championship in those years. The fact that they would have been one of the favorites to win it all in both football and hurling from 1952 to 1972 was high on that list. Obama fever!: John Riordan succeeded Seamus Dooley in '08, and now Larry McCarthy has the top chair. Not an easy task with development work needed to continue at Gaelic Park, numbers of players and spectators ongoing concerns. And, of course, the day to day running of the games of the Gaels, fixtures, county teams, referees, custodians, umpires and development all important tasks. Kudos to the men and women that take the positions of officers each year. While it would be brilliant to see a huge influx of new faces, just a few stepped forward at election time this past year. Shoot me a text if you need me:
If you needed a game to be caught by the scruff of the neck this past year Gary Reilly from Tyrone was your man. A storming machine. When a point was needed because trouble was around Mick Higgins from Four P's wouldn't disappoint. When a forward needed marking, Niall Corbett or Alan Foley, one on each side. To get a scream from the crowd after a score, the Bird, Kenny O Connor is the man. I'll take care of that for you!: Whether it was a penalty save or a diving stop in the face of danger, Mark Kelly from Down was in clinical form all year. Pa Ryan made some timely stops for the Gaels and Leitrim. Shane Clifford or Michael Grimes; you wouldn't go wrong with any of that four.
A pleasure to meet you this year: A real honor to meet some of the people that came through New York this year. Liam Sammon, who was over with the Galway squad, was a gentleman and more than giving with coaching tips. Tony Jordan spent a couple of weeks watching the refs in New York in the summer and was helpful with the thousands of questions we threw at him. Mickey Harte had the Sam Maguire on hand as Tyrone celebrated their conquering year. Seamus Howlin greeted all in Philly, and New York hurling star Brendan Hennessy was a huge help with stories from New York teams past. Another one in the book then. What about 2009? It would be nice to see New York back on the field in some capacity with a hurling squad. The opportunities are there, be it a North American competition or a junior championship in Ireland. The college tournaments are a tremendous help for the New York under-21s. Hopefully further participation in Ireland will be possible. Names on the stands and ends of Gaelic Park are needed, and now is as good a time as any. How about the John Mitchell Stand, the Cardinal Cushing Terrace or something on those lines? It would etch people in our history for their lifetime endeavors. So more work ahead, with championships, games, organizing and dinner dances. We're going to need a bigger boat!