The 19th – Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The London team that won the All-Ireland in 1901, captained by Clare’s Jack Coughlan.

PLAYED a bit of GAA on foreign fields once.
That was way back in the late 1980s when I was in Boston on a J1 Visa.
First time on an plane it was and so rocky was the first leg of the journey from Dublin to Shannon — remember the compulsory stopover at the old hub of that aviation world was still there that time before the Bear Cowen of Fianna Fáil sold it down the estuary a few years later — that I nearly made Clare my home that summer instead of Boston.
Must have been something in that, because I landed Clare four years later and haven’t got away since.
But I got away in ’88, after a few deochs in departure lounge and a good look at Patrick Hennessy’s portrait of JFK on the Shannon runway bidding farewell to the auld sod, I did the same and headed to Boston to play a bit of ball for the summer.
“You’ll meet a man in the Kinvara and he’ll sort you out.”
That’s all I was told. The Kinvara was a few stops up Commonwealth Avenue from Fenway Park on the Boston’s Green Line and then down a few hundred yards.
Sure enough, the man was there with talk of a job for the summer in return for playing a bit of ball.
And so it was, even if truth told there was more drinking and gouling around than there was football.
The team was St Pat’s and they training around the area Brighton — it was like it was at home. Tuesdays and Thursdays and then a match at the weekend.
But what you didn’t get at home was the after match beer — yeah you always got it in the pubs, but in Boston when you played ball you didn’t have to wait to reach the pub. It was in the dressing room after the game. Not on tap, but in big coolers.
Anything you wanted. It was there. And it was free. It was great.
And that went for every team, whether it was junior or senior. It was the Boston way in those games that were played back then in a place called Delboy.

That’s all I was told. The Kinvara was a few stops up Commonwealth Avenue from Fenway Park on the Boston’s Green Line and then down a few hundred yards.

Maurice Fitzgerald played there that summer, so did former Galway player John Joyce who died at a tragically young age back in the late 1990s.
Fitzgerald, who had put in a masterful performance on a losing Kerry side in the Munster Final against Cork, actually lined out in the Cork colours in Boston and he was brilliant to watch — of left or right he just stroked over frees for fun.
For a lot of the St Pat’s boys like myself it was a case of skulling back the pints for fun, as distinct from scoring points for fun, but that’s not to say that things weren’t taken seriously on these foreign fields.
They were. And in the St Pat’s club too. They were a Galway club, with some of their players coming from the deepest Connemara Gealtacht and as likely stop speak Irish on the field as they were Bostonese.
And they took it seriously, simply because the playing of the game — the ritual of the Tuesday and the Thursday training and the match at the weekend, whatever about the drink in the dressing room after the games, was their link with home.
It sounds clichéd and hackneyed, but it’s true — it’s that the Gaelic Games nearly mean more to people who are abroad than to those who are left at home.
You’ve heard the stories of those people who wouldn’t have been devout, where the GAA is concerned when they were at home, but once abroad have found that the greatest expression of their Irishness is in the playing of the games.
It’s why the GAA abroad has never had it so good as it has it now, with more people playing the game abroad than there ever has been, with more and more ‘county’ boards being set up in far flung places and competitions like the Asian Games and European Games getting bigger and bigger with every passing year.
An added dimension to this GAA diaspora is the fact that exiles now get a chance to play in the All-Ireland Club Championships. It’s not today or yesterday that this has happened, but it’s only in recent years with the advent of the intermediate and junior championships at All-Ireland level that they’ve had the opportunity to win All-Irelands.
It’s that fairly new departure that brings Clare to Croke Park this Sunday, when the Kilburn Gaels team where Clare connections run so deep will play in the All-Ireland Intermediate Club final against O’Donovan Rossa from Antrim.
It’s great for the Clare lads. From the chairman Mickey Burke from out in Whitegate to the players like Henry Vaughan, Ozer McMahon and Barry Kiely from the other side of Lough Derg in Ogonnelloe who are part of the squad, and Martin Duggan from Clooney and James Enright from Cratloe.
They’re following in a famous tradition of All-Irelands with a Clare connection to London at Jones’ Road.
That tradition is all of 112 years old — all thanks to the four Clare players who were on the London team to win that 1901 All-Ireland senior hurling final that was played in 1903.
Jack Coughlan from Tulla captained the team, while fellow Tulla men Paddy and Jack King were also part of the starting 17 as was Jerry O’Brien from Bodyke.
It’s taken a while, but east Clare men in the London colours are back in an All-Ireland final.
In the words of the Kilburn Gaels’ chairman Mickey Burke “it would be everything if the won this All-Ireland as the players would be writing their own history in the Kilburn Gaels jersey”.
The only thing for it would be to allow the beer into the dressing room like they did in the St Pat’s dressing rooms in Delboy all those years ago in Boston.
Here’s to Clare exiles in London that they may win the All-Ireland.
It would bring them closer to home, just as the playing of the games do.

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