In Focus.....Na Toraidhe Hurling Club, Philadelphia

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In Focus.....Na Toraidhe Hurling Club, Philadelphia

Post  bald eagle on Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:23 pm

Kieran Donohue, PRO from newly formed hurling club Na Toraidhe Hurling Club, Philadelphia, kindly agreed to be our subject for our new In Focus section. Questions were posed by the posters of Global GAA and here is the result of our Q&A with Kieran, I'm sure you will find it a very interesting insight to the GAA in Philadelphia and the formation of a new club -

We are all well aware of the popularity of the GAA in certain parts of North America, but just how big was hurling in Philadelphia at its peak, in terms of player numbers and teams (roughly) compared to nowadays? (Bald Eagle, bocerty)

I’m not all that sure as I am a relatively recent transplant to the city and the GAA have been involved in some form or another in the city since the 1920’s. One thing is for sure, and that is Football has always dominated the city. Up to 2010 there were always at least two hurling teams in the Philadelphia region. In 2011 it was down to just the one and for 2012 it’s back to two teams.

At the moment, the GAA in the city is made up of four men’s football teams, two men’s hurling teams, two ladies football teams, a camogie team in the making, two youth clubs, and a number of collegiate teams. A big development this year will be the opening of GAA owned facility comprising of a clubhouse and two full size pitches for the use of Philly GAA games.

It is no secret that the GAA in North America was booming in the 1990’s and 2000’s, with high profile players travelling from Ireland to play in Championships there, do you feel that this played a part in the downfall of Gaelic games, particularly hurling in Philadelphia in the later part of the 2000’s? (Bald Eagle)

I think it had little impact in Philadelphia as the big names tended to go to New York, Boston and Chicago. The main issue in Philadelphia was a lot of guys who played hurling were of a generation that aged together, the sport lost a lot of stalwarts in a short period of time and there were few replacements. The influx of Irish players for championships helped plug the gaps, but ultimately this just delayed the decline.
If this game is to have a future, then there must be a resident playing population to sustain interest. Speaking from a hurling point of view we have a really unique game that could easily attract large playing numbers, given the right approach.

If you look at how Lacrosse has developed through the college system here you can see that it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. In fairness to the GAA, they are seeing this are becoming more aware of that and the number of collegiate teams all over the country is increasing every year, with three Philadelphia university football teams in formation this year.

The folding of Philadelphia Shamrocks must have been a massive blow to the hurling community of the area, but what was the inspiration behind the formation of Na Toriadhe HC so soon after the folding of the Shamrocks? (Bald Eagle, bocerty)

The last time the shamrocks played in GAA sanctioned games was in 2010. As a good portion of the budget was taken up by merely registering with the GAA and related costs, it was decided to divert that financial and human capital elsewhere and focus on growing our grassroots.

The remaining members of the Shamrocks spent 2011 introducing players to the game and playing some challenge games outside of what the GAA sanctioned.This approach produced some good results and we added a large number of new players to the team. With the new blood and a new approach, we decided to reform the team under a new name to signify the new era.

Is there interest in the sport from younger people who do not have links with Ireland? If so, do you operate a scheme to introduce young Americans to the sport and what is their general opinion of it? (SamiPremier)

There is a lot of interest in hurling among younger Americans. During our practice sessions we regularly have kids coming over to enquire about the sport. There lies one of the biggest problems in recruiting youth, it’s generally not on their radar until they physically come across the sport.

We would love to operate a youth system but we don’t have the coaching or financial resources to do so. The hope is build the club slowly each year, much in the same fashion as the Amsterdam team outlined in their previous posting on this site. We envisage that a strong youth structure will eventually be at the heart of that effort.

I would love to create new hurling clubs in my area (UK), however the large expense coupled with the problems in getting player numbers large enough to maintain a league are crippling, I would love to see the GAA or UK GAA launch an initiative that would see 7 or 9 a-side leagues introduced into areas with little or no hurling and games played on Rugby or soccer pitches, obviously with rolling subs and reduced playing time. Do you feel that such an initiative would be beneficial in your area, and if not what would you like to see happen to improve player participation in Philadelphia? (Bald Eagle)

I think this is the way forward to be honest. Personally, I would like to see 9 a-side or 11 a-side games played on soccer pitches. The reasons are twofold;smaller numbers would give the players more time on the ball to develop their skills and it would be easier to maintain playing numbers with smaller players a side. It’s in the strategic plan to have something similar in all the major US cities and I think it’s a really great initiative.

I noticed on the website, that it states that the majority of players are American born. Where do they get their interest in hurling and are there any of non-Irish heritage? Do you have any plans to try to recruit players from non-Irish backgrounds? Seems like there could be potential cross-over with lacrosse or hockey skills in the US? (black&white, bocerty, SamiPremier)

There are a lot of guys with family ties to Ireland and they came across the game via that route, but others have found us in a more roundabout way. We have guys that came across the sport while on a semester abroad at an Irish college, through Irish history course in a US college and seeing it on ESPN World Sports. One of the guys saw a Guinness commercial that showcased hurling and this eventually lead him to our website.

I think this game could catch on with the aggressive targeting of players of non-Irish backgrounds through the college system. It’s how both American football and Lacrosse became big sports in this country.

With baseball, hockey and lacrosse all being 'stick games', I'd imagine that there must be some transferable skills. Are there any sports which stand out as giving newcomers a head start in picking up the skills of hurling? (ThomasClarke, black&white)

Hockey and Lacrosse players generally have a biggest advantage during the transfer.Like hurling, those are the games are generally fast, physical and skillful. Lacrosse is probably closest in terms of game structure and tactics. When we try to describe hurling to someone who is not familiar with the game we generally make reference to both hockey and Lacrosse given the similarities.

American football produces a surprisingly good level of transfer after the initial skills are developed. The attributes needed to be an American football produces a unique breed type of hurler. One who is enormously physical and quite literally fearless, sometimes they bring to life the meaning of putting your head on the line. We have a few guys who have become immune to concussions over the years and seem at ease with that role.

Baseball is generally a bit of a hindrance to a player’s early development. Everything in hurling is counter intuitive to the baseball player, from the way we hold a hurl to the way we strike a ball and then there is the running. Baseball players are not used to running for very far or very long.

The recruitment of players for overseas units is a cut throat business, what do you find the best method for sourcing players? Do you find that the popularity of social media now mean that club websites are becoming less important? (Bald Eagle)

Social media is great way of getting our name out there, promoting events and communicating but as a method of recruiting players, it has proved fruitless. No one has come to the team through using social media. We haven’t even had an enquiry from a potential new player through social media. The website has helped us unearth quite a few guys and is probably the best tool we have for recruitment.

However, the best method of getting new players isthrough word of mouth, the original social media if you will. A lot of the players were introduced to the team by a friend that was already associated with the squad in some capacity.

Do the rules governing the wearing of helmets and now gumshields apply to clubs in America too? (bocerty)

We all wear helmets, although I wasn’t aware of the gumshield rule. That’s something for us to look in to, but all the rules of the GAA apply to teams in the states too.

What would the skill levels of the American born players be like and would discipline more of a problem with the American born players than it would be say with an Irish born player? (bocerty)

The skill levels are surprisingly high. Initially the game will appear daunting, but gradually the skills are learned and then honed. It probably takes three months for a new player to have the capacity that allows them to actively compete in a training game. By year two or three players are probably as good as they will get skill wise. That’s when they learn how to be “cute”.

As for discipline, with the exception of fouls on the ball, I think it’s relatively similar for Irish born players and American players. That’s not to say it’sgreat, but in no way is it bad either. There is no cynicism in the American approach to the discipline that can perhaps be found(and in some cases actively encouraged) at some levels back home.

Where do you source the hurls for the team, are they brought in from Ireland or elsewhere (bocerty)

Almost all of our sticks are sourced from Ireland and as you can imagine it’s difficult to organize shipments and ensure quality. There is a Hurley maker in America, he’s based in Greenville, South Carolina and we do get a few sticks of him. We probably go through 3 or 4 hurls each over the course of a season so there is a great need of replenishment and a constant process.

What do you feel is the best way to season a new hurley? Also, how do you compare and contrast the differences between seasoning a new hurley in North America and in Ireland (The Puke)

When I played back in Ireland, leaving the hurl in the shed and hoping for the best was my preferred method. It served me relatively well at home, but has proven a disaster in the States. The hot and humid summers here mean that seasoning hurls has become somewhat of an obsession. Every guy has their own method from putting the hurl in a barrel of water after every use, to covering the hurl in warm ashes several times before first use. The best method seems to be applying a couple of coats of Linseed oil and leaving an about a week between applications. While this greatly enhances the life of a hurl, they still break all too often.

A couple of the guys have started playing with composite hurls and for this environment they are ideal. They are also surprisingly good to play with. Given the cost and shortage of hurls over here, we will be moving the whole team to composite hurls for next season.

Do you play in a regular league, or are competitive games based more on blitzes and weekend tournaments like in Europe? (black&white, Bald Eagle)

A mix of all three formats, actually. Our bread and butter is the Philadelphia championship. We play a team from the neighboring city of Allentown over a three game series for the both the league and the championship.

There are a lot of seven-a-side blitzes held over the course of one day in New York, Washington and Baltimore and they are within driving distance.

Over the Labor day weekend (generally the first weekendin September), all the state champions as well as Canadian teams will meet up for the north America Championship at four grades. The four grades areSenior, Junior A, Junior B and junior C which is exclusively for American born players. Hopefully we’ll make it there this year seeing as it is being hosted in Philadelphia.

Given the huge distances that presumably separate hurling teams in the US, can you tell us about the logistics involved in organising/fulfilling fixtures? (ThomasClarke)

Organizing a game is a challenge. Firstly, finding teams at a similar level can be the biggest hurdle. It we played some of the NY teams, complete with their inter-county players, it would be pointless, once we find the right team the scheduling can begin.
Secondly, the travelling involved is intense. For the “local” games we pile in to cars, much like we did when playing under-14 at home, and drive anything up to 350 miles to places like New York, Washington, Baltimore or south Massachusetts. Anything longer requires a flight and that becomes even more of a logistical nightmare.
Lastly you have the biggest variable of them all, the Weather. Games are frequently affected by lightening, torrential rain and even the odd Tornado.So, after all of theorganizing andtravelling we might get to a place then we’ll have to turn around and go back home due to the weather.

On the plus side, you get to see a lot of the country and the journey acts as an impromptu team bonding exercise.

In terms of pitch sizes, do you play on a full size GAA pitch or do you play on American Football size pitches? (black&white)

Teams over here are 13 A-side here to cater for the fact that anything that we get to play on will be smaller than your standard GAA pitch.Na Toraidhe play on a Soccer pitch of a local high school with GAA like posts crudely added to the Soccer goals.

American football pitches tend to be AstroTurf in this part of the country, so they are not really suitable.

Do you have much difficulty in getting referees for your games? Is it even possible to get independent referees to travel to games? (black&white)

With two only two hurling teams in the championship it’s clearly impossible to get a referee from a hurling club that would be independent, but the football teams provide a referee and it works quite well.

Is there a problem with players having to choose between Hurling and Football in Philadelphia, and ultimately does this affect your numbers any? (bocerty)

Not really, given the dispersion of the clubs and the sheer size of the city your decision will probably be a practical one. If you are in a position to choose, the team that is closest to your work or home is probably the one that you will go for.

How much of an issue is players entering the US illegally and playing for clubs like yours? (understandthat you not want to answer that!). If willing to answer that, do you ever have issues with US Immigration service conducting surprise visits to the club to try and catch illegals? I've a friend who plays for a predominantly Irish soccer team in NYC that has been subject to these visits more than once. (black&white)

This is an election year question if ever I saw one! All our Irish players are here legally, arriving here through work or naturalized citizens. I can see two reasons why it hasn’t been an issue that we have encountered. Firstly, there arefew Irish coming here with the intention of working illegallyas there are other legal avenues in Canada, Australia or New Zealand that are more appealing.

I also think Philadelphia has fallen out of favor as a place for Irish people to live and work. There is a huge Irish population in Philadelphia but those generations arrived here in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.

As for immigration, they haven’t been down for a visit, yet.

You have said that you plan on fielding a Camogie team in the future, how are these plans coming on? (Bocerty)

The plans are coming along but they are not progressing as quickly as initially hoped. We have taken great heart from the expansion of ladies football in the Philadelphia region, with two teams competing in that championship and they have won several North American championships between them in the last four years. We will take stock of the efforts at the end of the season and develop a strategy based on the lessons learned this year.

Last edited by bald eagle on Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:30 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: In Focus.....Na Toraidhe Hurling Club, Philadelphia

Post  bald eagle on Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:29 pm

Folks, i would firstly like to say a massive thanks to Kieran for agreeing to take part in this Q&A, it is good for those of you that have never played any for of GAA overseas to gain an insight into the challenges faced by these clubs.

Thanks to you all for asking questions, I forwarded all questions and thankfully all were answered, i hope all posters enjoy reading the responses to their questions and those posed by other posters.

Please let us know what you think of the interview, personally i think you asked some brilliant questions with Kieran providing some great detailed answers for us.

As with all participants in this feature, Na Toraidhe are on Twitter and well worth a follow at @natoraidhe

A great deal of work has went into this, i would greatly appreciate it if guests to the site, and our posters, would leave some feedback on this Q&A for us.

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Re: In Focus.....Na Toraidhe Hurling Club, Philadelphia

Post  Parouisa on Tue Jul 03, 2012 4:11 pm

Good stuff as usual, very informative - well done Kieran and thanks to BE again.
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Re: In Focus.....Na Toraidhe Hurling Club, Philadelphia

Post  Thomas Clarke on Wed Jul 04, 2012 6:37 pm

Very interesting Kieran, and really does show the great work that is going on to promote our games all over the globe.

Thanks for taking the time to put together such comprehensive responses, and thanks also to BE for his part in yet another fine instalment!
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Re: In Focus.....Na Toraidhe Hurling Club, Philadelphia

Post  bocerty on Thu Jul 05, 2012 11:50 pm

once again a great read, very insightful and honest. Thanks to BE and Kieran for their efforts in putting this together.

The effort these guys put in to keep clubs going is commendable to say the least. At least back here in Ireland you have the local community to help out when it comes to raising a few pound to pay a few bills it has to be a whole lot harder when your dealing with a club where you might not know too many in the area and not everyone appreciates the effort you put in to make sure there are hurls and sliothars for everyone.

Keep her lit Kieran your doing a great job by the sounds of things.

Thanks again BE

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