Having moved to New York late last summer, Cork-native Niamh Long recently joined the Manhattan Gaels ladies football team and has found a GAA home away from home.

As the clocks change around this time of year, the smell of freshly cut grass begins to waft around GAA clubs in villages and towns across Ireland and the thoughts of many a Gael turn to hurling and football under the summer sun.

For the recently emigrated GAA player this can be a somewhat difficult time of year though, as the eternal sense of optimism that each new season brings pervades their clubs back home, and they see the Facebook groups that they are no doubt still a part of awash with excitement and positivity.

But if after finishing work in Downtown Manhattan you find yourself going for a jog along the East River Park beneath the Williamsburg Bridge recently then you might have seen a uniquely Irish sight.

There you will have found Manhattan’s only GAA club, the Manhattan Gaels, continuing the Gaelic tradition as they spread the gospel to the heart of New York City.

Manhattan Gaels are in their second season, and with the men’s team having achieved Junior B league success in their first year, this year the Ladies Football team are looking to build on that strong foundation. The Gaels naturally don’t have the tradition of some of our more established fellow clubs in areas like Queens and the Bronx. One of the GAA’s greatest traditions however, is that wherever Gaels go in the world, GAA clubs soon follow.

In that regard it may be surprising that it’s taken so long for a club to form in Manhattan but in this centenary year for the New York GAA, the times are changing. More and more Irish are choosing Manhattan as their base in New York and we’re looking forward to welcoming as many of those as we can to our growing and vibrant GAA community. Of course we want to win, but we also want to have fun, meet new people and be part of a strong and enduring tradition that has kept our native games alive and strong in the heart of New York.

For many of us, we’re continuing a tradition that our parents were a part of at one stage or another, and as we train under the sounds of the subway you can’t help but think of the stories your father told of his time in New York, back in the sixties and seventies. While the dance halls they frequented after training may be long gone, all it needs is a Saw Doctors song playing in the background to give you goose bumps!

One of the wonderful things about being located in Manhattan is that it’s not just immigrant Irish that find themselves drawn to our fledgling club. One evening at training a girl was jogging past between the FDR and the space we were running around in in East River Park. She stopped to ask what we were doing. The best way of showing her was to give her a football and tell her to join in, which she readily did. We were all impressed with her natural talent, but when we found out her name was Deirdre Regan and her father is a proud Mayo man it made a little more sense!

My own membership of the club started in a more traditional way, as I was talked into to it by a girl in an Irish bar. What was surprising though was that girl was from Ohio, not a renowned Gaelic Football stronghold as Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh might say!

Since I met her though I’ve been to the Irish Consulate, met with Irish Business Networks in New York, found myself elected the board & enthusiastically welcomed by a fun dynamic bunch of people.

When the men’s team won the League Final last year, they had another Irish-American from Westchester, Tim Spelman, to thank for getting them to that great day. Having never played the game before the winter of 2013, Spelman was the star of the semi-final with a haul of 1-1.

With the GAA signing some revolutionary television deals recently in a concerted effort to “grow the game”, it’s great to be a part of a brand new GAA club in the heart of New York’s Concrete Jungle that is bringing together Canadians, Americans, Scottish and of course the Irish. If that’s not growing the game then I don’t know what is!

Like any GAA club new members are always welcome, and I can vouch for the fantastic welcoming attitude of the team. There’s a place for everyone at the GAA and if you want to have the craic with a great bunch of girls then Manhattan Gaels is the place for you. We’re growing, we’re optimistic, and we’re tremendous fun.

All we’re missing is the smell of fresh cut grass… but as the snow melts in Manhattan our thoughts turn to summer days ahead and we dream of championship glory in our Empire State of Mind.

For more info: [email protected].