Kate Wood explains how the change of pitch can change the experience of playing GAA.
Each year, young GAA players opt to head stateside for the summer months, a country with over 130 clubs throughout the United States.
The chance to move away from home for three months, and have an adventure stateside whilst continuing to play sport is something so many dream of. However, over the last number of years offers to play have become increasingly exclusive as clubs are now requesting some of the best players. Two such players who were asked to make the journey across the ocean to play with Donegal-Boston in Massachusetts were Ted Furman of Ballymun Kickums in Dublin and Jack O’Brien from Noamh Mhuire in Donegal.
“I was asked for the last number of years to come out and they got in contact through social media with a lad I knew that played and asked if I’d like to come out too,’ explains Ted. ‘It’s a really good set up.”
Players are given free accommodation and unlike in Ireland, they are paid to play. “You are basically a professional footballer for three months”, says Jack. “There are two training sessions a week and then a match on Sunday.”
Many people think because it’s America it wouldn’t be as competitive as in Ireland, but both lads confirmed the opposite. “It is hugely competitive, twelve of the thirteen Irish guys on the team played intercounty. Back home you would never have that amount in a club scenario,” explains Ted. “There is such a large Irish community in Boston that huge crowds attend the matches and are very vocal when supporting their teams.”
Both Ted and Jack specifically remembered their championship final where taunts were being yelled at Ted whilst preparing to take a free kick. “I’ve played for Dublin and Jack has played for Donegal and neither of us have experienced roars like that from the crowd before.” However, this wasn’t the only aspect of playing abroad which surprised both players.
It also highlighted to both players the shortcomings of GAA at home. “Personally, I think GAA is going in the wrong way”, said Jack. “You’d have training four or five times a week plus matches. There is no time for a job or social life, and you are able to enjoy football a lot more here.”
Jack revealed during college he had football six times a week between the Donegal county team and his club. “I’d see my friends be going out and I’d be just sat in my house because I was too tired and too broke.”
Pressure on young GAA players by their clubs has been shown a lot in the media over the last few years with both inter-county and club management being questioned about their attitude towards players social drinking. Very young players are having to deal with school, college, training, jobs and then feeling they can’t socialise for months on end.
“It was the same with me for Dublin,” explained Ted. “While we’re here we do our trainings every Tuesday and Thursday and play matches, but afterwards we are free to go out and have a few drinks if we want to and are not constantly restricted. In Ireland and Dublin especially, there is such a taboo on drinking.”
Both lads remarked on how an increasing number of players from around the ages of 18-21 leave their clubs because the pressures are too much. Many players want to have the full college experience, but the restrictions placed on them by their clubs is something many don’t want.
Ironically, back in 2013 talks between the GAA and New York GAA resulted in players being banned from switching their allegiances to American teams after provincial games had ended. GAA general director Paraic Duffy enforced the rule to all players except for full time students as it is supposedly “part of the student experience.” However, student GAA players feel they aren’t getting the full experience at home.
“U.S Gaelic Football is what clubs were like in Ireland 20 years ago,” claimed both Ted and Jack.
“Nowadays it’s taken too seriously. They have a really good set up, not just in Boston but everywhere in America. We are looked after and you do create a really good bond with your team. The American lads are constantly asking questions and from one end of the summer to the next you can see a big difference in them. It really is an amazing experience.”
Without doubt, the success of U.S. teams will continue to grow over the coming years as will the popularity of Gaelic sports all over the world.
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