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'We would struggle to get a team without Irish-based players' - Uncertainty for GAA club in New York
Ray Gallagher of the Longford club explains how much they rely on Irish-based players to compete.

A MEMBER OF the Longford GAA club in New York says they would struggle to field a team without access to Irish-based players who come out to play for the summer.

Longford Longford GAA NY Twitter. The Longford GAA New York panel in 2019. Longford GAA NY Twitter.

There is a lot of uncertainty regarding how the rest of the GAA season will unfold with all activity suspended until at least 19 April due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Hurling and football competitions across the world have been affected by the pandemic as cities implement various lockdown measures to slow the spread of infection.

Over the years, Irish-based GAA players have travelled to America in large numbers for the summer to play hurling and football on J1 visas, but that much-celebrated tradition is in jeopardy for the 2020 season.

Longford GAA’s treasurer in New York, Ray Gallagher, explains that their club football activity typically starts in June when they play off their league competition before the championship takes place across July and August.

“We try to get it wrapped up before the end of the summer so if we have teachers or whatever visiting,” he explains to The42. ”It’s all done before the schools start back in September. Normally it’s done by the All-Ireland [final].”

Gallagher says that there has always been a Longford club in New York, although it unfortunately “fell by the wayside in 2002 and 2003″. Some of its players rallied to reinvent the club around five years ago, a revival which led to the Longford team winning junior and intermediate county titles in New York.

They also won the senior championship in 2018, with Armagh star Jamie Clarke featuring in their successful run. Former Longford star Brian Kavanagh has also lined out for the New York club in the past.

“Each summer, we bring a few drafts from Ireland,” says Gallagher. “We give them work for the summer and there’s inter-club transfers [too].

diarmuid-mckiernan-with-jamie-clarke Andy Marlin / INPHO Jamie Clarke also lined out for New York in 2018. Andy Marlin / INPHO / INPHO

“Typically, they start arriving [in the] middle of April. We try to help some of them out with accommodation and it’s always trying to get apartments for May, June, July. As part of the sanction rule, they have to be here for 28 days continuous before they’re eligible.

“I would say probably 40-50% of our sanctions and transfers would be Ireland-based players. The last two or three years, we’ve probably had four to six players [from Ireland]. We get a total of eight sanctions [and] some players transfer club to club.

“We try to get good players and give them a good time for the summer.”

The Longford club endeavours to take care of the players that are in New York all year-round, according to Gallagher.

But he also concedes that they are reliant on the Irish contingent coming over for the summer in order to have adequate numbers to compete. With only a limited number of sanctions available, they aim to recruit the best players possible.

“We probably would struggle to get a team without the Irish-based players,” says Gallagher.

“We’d have at least four or five [from Ireland]. They generally don’t miss the games. Some junior players can play senior so we use some of them but it’s not very dependable.

You couldn’t depend on getting a team together based on what they tell you two days before the game. We would be really hurt if we couldn’t get Irish players. We’d be struggling to make 15.”

There’s no indication as to when competitions will commence in New York this year. Gallagher says the Longford club is hopeful that the city will be back in full operation by the end of May, which would in turn offer a window for football and hurling seasons to be completed.

They will have to follow the directives from Croke Park. This is all crystal ball gazing of course, and for the moment, nothing is clear.

“I’m not sure if that’s realistic,” he says, “but if we could get a clear run for July and August, I think we could at least run the championship and maybe not play the league.”

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Gallagher comes from an area in north Longford called Drumlish. He first relocated to New York in 2000 after studying Environmental Engineering in college. He began working in construction upon his arrival in the Big Apple and now runs his own company.

However, he has had to close its doors in the last week due to coroanvirus. 

“It’s hard,” Gallagher begins. “If we don’t finish the work we can’t get paid. A lot of the lads are home now, [we're] trying to help them out with money and paychecks.

I actually had a player from Mayo. He was working in the office as a junior quantity surveyor. He had worked one full week and then got a call from the J1 office that they were returning all students to Ireland.” 

Ireland and America are also operating on different timelines in relation to how they are combating the spread of Covid-19. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has asked that all Irish people are to remain at home until Easter Sunday.

However, Gallagher notes that there is a reluctance to impose similar lockdown measures in New York as it would economically “kill the city for a month or two”.

The ultimate decision is down to the Governor. It’s frustrating because everybody knows that a total lockdown is what’s required to get on top of the thing. But these guys won’t make that call because they’re afraid of their bank balance at the end of the day.”

The Longford club have already signed most of their sanction players for this year but those differences between Ireland and America’s approach to dealing with Covid-19 could cause further complications for Irish players hoping to play in America.

“Unless those players couldn’t come,” says Gallagher of the possibility of playing without the Irish-based players.

“If it was coronavirus-related or whatever, they didn’t want to travel or weren’t allowed. I think we would have to approach the county board and see would they allow us to switch.

“Right now, there’s no notice of anything proceeding.”

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