International Rules - living up to the name: New York

Saturday, October 09 2004 @ 09:23 am ACST

Contributed by: Peter Parry

There is no doubt that both Gaelic football and Aussie Rules are growing in North America. Gaelic football has been established much longer in America, and with Australian footy growing fast, opportunities exist for the sports to work together. The New York football scene is a great example of what might be achieved.

The local NY Championships in Gaelic football and hurling are keenly contested. In recent years New York (wearing a jersey that incorporates a symbol of the NY Fire Department, many of whose fire fighters, some with strong links to the GAA, perished in the twin towers) have competed in the All Ireland Football Championship, though are yet to progress past the first round. This year's North American GAA finals (for teams outside the stronghold of New York) were the biggest yet, held in Denver with 58 adult teams and over 30 junior level games. The teams that played had often won the right in preliminary rounds in their home cities. There was also a North American junior championships held in NY in July, where the large presence of anglo, hispanic and continental names apart from the usual O'Brien's and O'Leary's was noted, as Gaelic football gradually moves into the mainstream of American life.

The growth of Australian Rules footy in North America has been well canvassed on worldfootynews.com, and is increasingly driven by locals rather than expats. This year's nationals, like their Gaelic counterparts, have attracted a large number of teams, as well as AFL heavyweights Kevin Sheedy and General Manager of Game Development, David Matthews.

Previous stories here have noted collaboration and on-field competition between Gaelic and Aussie Rules clubs in Denver, Vancouver and Calgary. There is room for more, and past announcements from the AFL and GAA hierarchy have indicated a desire to take their annual Test series to New York. Gaelic Park (pictured here) has been granted funding for a major upgrade to a 10,000 seat stadium as part of NY's Olympic bid, and thus could host an IR match in future.

However if a full-scale Test match is played in the Bronx it won't be the first Compromise/International rules game there. In fact Gaelic Park has hosted three IR games already. Two were way back in 1968 and 1969 (see more here) during the heyday of the "Galahs", and featured Ron Barrassi squaring up to a tough New York cop, Brendan Tumulty, before 9,000 spectators. The third was very recent indeed, with the NY Magpies bravely taking on a NY GAA All-Stars team. As Douglas Lewis, president of the Magpies explains:

"The NY Magpies played a strict International Rules game against the Gaelic Athletic Association's All-Stars on September 13, 2003 for the NY Cup. The GAA squad won on the day 127-23. We used an Australian football for half the game and a Gaelic ball the other half. The game was played at Gaelic Park (Manhattan College) in the Bronx, NY. Dinner and drinks followed in the clubhouse after the game and then moved into some of the Irish Pubs in the area for a very late night. The heavy rain kept a larger crowd away as over a thousand were expected, yet only a hundred or so braved the rain. The match was a lot of fun and more games are planned on either an annual or semi-annual basis".

If 9,000 turned up in the days before the USAFL, satellite TV, an established IR series, internet and the marketing slickness of the modern AFL and GAA - let alone Coca Cola who are currently running ads on Irish TV for the IR series, what kind of promotion could a Test match give for Footy (USAFL and Gaelic) in America today?

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