When New York were feared
April 10, 2009
While Mayo will be very short priced favourites to account for New York in this summer's Connacht championship opening round clash at Gaelic Park, the Big Apple representatives weren't always push-overs in Gaelic football. By Noel Coogan.
Younger followers of the game may find it difficult to believe that New York won the National Football League three times. In a number of years between 1950 and 1969 they played the 'home' winners in what was called the final proper and generally provided stern opposition for top teams this side of the Atlantic.
New York's initial foray into the NFL was in the 1949-50 competition when they defeated Cavan by 2-8 to 0-12 to take the first of their three titles. After gaining All-Ireland honours in 1947 and '48, Cavan were foiled of the treble when neighbours Meath defeated them in the final to go on the most prestigious roll of honour for the first time.
The Breffni men gained some revenge for the 1949 setback when getting the better of Meath in the league home final in '50, winning by 2-8 to 1-6. Despite fielding renowned players like John Joe O'Reilly (of the team of the century and team of the millennium), Phil 'Gunner' Brady, Mick Higgins, Tony Tighe and Peter Donohoe, New York came to Croke Park and inflicted a 2-8 to 0-12 defeat on such star-studded opposition.
In recent years New York have fielded teams of unknown players but such was not the case in the '50s and '60s. In those years there was a lot of emigration from Ireland to America and the GAA in the Big Apple benefited.
For the 1950 success they had Bill Carlos, one of the stalwarts of Roscommon's All-Ireland triumphs in 1943 and '44, at centre back and Pat McAndrew, who had figured on Mayo's losing team against Cavan in the 1948 Sam Maguire Cup decider, at midfield.
There was a big incentive for the home winners of the 1950-51 NFL (as well the hurling victors) with the prizes being trips to New York. Few people went abroad in those years and the games in the Polo Grounds attracted a lot of interest.
Meath got the better of Mayo by 0-6 to 0-3 in a low-scoring encounter to earn the trip that they missed out on four years earlier when Cavan and Kerry qualified to meet in the historic 1947 All-Ireland final. Cavan created a piece of history by being the first county to win that title outside Ireland and neighbours Meath brought home the league crown.
A goal from Mattie McDonnell in the closing stages was the difference in the 1-10 to 0-10 victory with Paddy Meegan the winning captain. New York were captained by Tom 'Gega' O'Connor from Dingle, who had captained Kerry to All-Ireland glory at the expense of Meath in 1939 and went on to enjoy similar successes in 1940, '41 and '46 as well as playing against Cavan in '47.
New York were back in the NFL final in 1952 when Cork, captained by Eamonn Young, outscored the visitors by 1-12 to 0-3, having narrowly accounted for Dublin in the home final.
After that New York did not participate in the league finals until.1963 when Kerry defeated their footballers by 1-18 to 0-9 at Croke Park. The losing side included Denis Bernard, who was in the Cork defence for league successes in 1952 and '56.
New York lifted the NFL title for the second time with a 2-12 to 1-13 victory over Dublin on their home patch in 1964. The metropolitans fielded most of the All-Ireland winning side of the previous year, including present day selector Mickey Whelan.
The 1965 league finals in New York were played over two legs for the first time and in football the all-conquering Galway team of the time won out on an aggregate score of 4-12 to 0-17. They lost the first leg by the minimum margin and strangely the games were played on the last Sunday of June and the first Sunday of July.
Longford had their best ever football team between 1965 and '68 and they gained outright honours in the NFL in 1966. After defeating Galway by 0-9 to 0-8 in the home final, they got the better of New York in the overall title decider.
The first leg was played at Pearse Park and the second October clash was at Croke Park. The aggregate scores in favour of Longford were 1-18 to 0-17. Two years later Longford lifted the Leinster SFC title for the only time with a final victory over Laois before they lost narrowly to Kerry in the penultimate round.
New York took NFL honours for the third time in 1967 when Galway were overcome by 10 points (7-8 to 1-16) over the two legs in May in Gaelic Park. The winning captain was right full back Ken Finn, a Louthman who had been a member of Dundalk's FAI Cup winning side in 1958 when Shamrock Rovers were defeated 1-0 in the decider.
Goalkeeper on the New York team in 1967 was Willie Nolan, who had been Offaly's netminder in the famous All-Ireland final against Down six years earlier. Directly in front of him was brother Peter at full back with Dermot Finn, brother of Ken, at right half back.
New York appeared in the NFL final of 1969 and on their home patch they lost out to Kerry over two legs with the Kingdom outscoring the hosts by 2-33 to 2-24. The initial clash finished up level, 0-12 each, and the second leg went to extra-time. Those games were played on the last two Sundays of June before Kerry headed home to lose a second successive Munster final to Kerry.
There were also years when New York played the All-Ireland champions and in 1967 their clash with Meath was bizarrely titled the World Cup. During that game there was a peculiar incident when Meath coach Peter McDermott and county chairman Fr Packie Tully dashed on to the pitch to remonstrate with referee John Moloney over some of his decisions.
Although New York played in the National Hurling League final on a number of occasions, they were never victorious. In 1950 the great Tipperary team of the time travelled to the Big Apple to score a narrow 1-12 to 3-4 win over the hosts. The Premier County had got the better of Kilkenny in the home final and in their semi-final they defeated Meath on the unusual 9-3 to 0-6 scoreline.
In the autumn of 1951 Galway hurlers travelled with Meath to New York and defeated the Exiles by 2-11 to 2-8. New York's hurlers played at Croke Park for the first time in 1952 but Tipperary proved too strong, winning by 6-14 to 2-5.
Like the footballers, New York returned to the NHL in 1963 and took Waterford to a replay. After a 3-6 each draw at Croke Park, they met in Nowlan Park where the Deise won by 3-10 to 1-10.
In subsequent years in the '60s Tipperary (three times) and Kilkenny got the better of New York who played in the NHL final for the last time in 1970. Cork provided the opposition over two legs in New York and gained a narrow success, 5-21 (36) to 6-16 (34) with a man called Gerald McCarthy the winning captain.
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