Let’s face facts: neither London nor New York belong in Connacht

So, it’s Ruislip for us this day week to start our 2011 Connacht championship campaign.  Just like it was Gaelic Park in New York to get us going in 2009.  We all get a spin of the wheel, of course, and so for all of us, there’s an exotic opening to the championship to look forward to every few years.  Sure what’s the harm in that?

I’ve never been to any of these overseas matches, despite the fact that I was living in London when our lads played in Ruislip in 1991.  The proximity of exams kept me away from that one (although I did see us play two exhibition games over there during my time in the city) and I’ve never gone over for a match since.  Likewise, I’ve never made it to Gaelic Park for any of our clashes with the Exiles over there.  Ongoing work pressures will also prevent me from making it to London next Sunday for our championship opener there this year.

I know that many people enjoy these excursions, providing as they do a tailor-made excuse to spend some time in two of the great cities of the world, and that the visit of senior championship teams from the province is also valued by the host organisations. Bearing this in mind, it seems a bit churlish to go all sourpuss and call into the question the whole point of including London and New York in the Connacht senior championship each year but, feck it, I’m going to do so all the same.

The simple fact is that neither London nor New York are ever expected to win their matches against the visiting teams from Connacht.  London beat Leitrim by three points back in 1977 but that’s the sole Exile win in all the years they’ve been involved in the championship and there’s no expectation that this is set to change anytime soon. If either of them did manage to cause a seismic upset – as New York came too close to comfort to doing against Galway last year – it might cause a few headaches in terms of match scheduling (especially if New York had to travel over for a semi-final) but everyone knows that this is unlikely to occur and the working assumption everyone makes it that it never will.

Instead, what happens is that New York and London are allowed to pretend each year that they’re part of the Connacht championship knowing full well that their part of the bargain is to be the perennial good losers and to make sure that everyone enjoys the day out, with Gaelic Park and Ruislip fleetingly becoming part of Ireland for the day.  But only for the day, mind.

There’s no suggestion that London and New York are ever or will ever be serious challengers for the Nestor Cup – all they do is add to the numbers.  The draw is also rigged to ensure that everyone gets a turn to play both of them and they’ve never been drawn to play each other either.

Then there’s the cost, which the Roscommon County Board estimated this year to be in the region of one hundred big ones (half that when the €50k grant from the Connacht Council is factored in).  This is money that has to be found somewhere and money that could, especially in these straitened times, be used to better effect by the travelling counties each year.  In addition, it’s not a cost facing counties in the three other provinces who don’t have any non-Irish ‘counties’ tagged onto their championships.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion, then, that the whole thing is a complete and utter waste of time.  From a footballing point of view, there are clearly no gains to be made from these annual pilgrimages, either for the counties travelling out each year or for the host teams.  Is it really going to benefit anyone if we all continue to take turns in beating the two Exile teams, even if it does mean we can get in some sight-seeing, shopping and pint drinking while doing so?

Personally, I think this is an exercise that has run its course and that the inclusion of London and New York in the Connacht senior championship needs to be re-assessed.  Ideally, this should form part of a wider restructuring of the championship, maybe with the provinces becoming four groups of eight or maybe with a more radical split along the lines of hurling, where a majority of counties compete for the Sam Maguire but where those who are clearly in the also-ran category play only for a second-tier championship.

Such a competition would be a more natural home for the likes of London and New York.  Not only would they get to play against a number of different counties, they might even – perish the thought – start to win matches on a regular basis.  What it would mean is that their involvement in the championship would have the chance to become in some way meaningful and would not continue to be the empty and utterly tokenistic exercise that it currently is.

8 thoughts on “Let’s face facts: neither London nor New York belong in Connacht

  1. Or let them play in the Junior championship? In fact if a new championship structure could be tried out at Junior grade, the options for change could be investigated and assessed before proposing it for the Senior grade.

    Just a thought as the jelly and ice cream settles on a Championship afternoon.

    Keep the Faith!

  2. the only positive point which applies to the two fixtures is that they seem to have had a good effect on mayo teams in recent years.

    new york- 2004
    london-2006
    new york-2006

    each year resulted in connacht championships and 2 of which we made the all ireland.

  3. I have been at the London game every year since 91. we were put to the test in 96′, Roscommon were rescued by the cross bar once and Lietrim were taken to extra time one year. Galway started their all ireland defence there in 99. Please dont deny the exiles this game. Its the highlight of the year for the non ryanair generation who the celtic tiger crew dismiss.
    ‘A very different county’ by Robert Mullen will make you change your mind. Six hours study the previous weekend would have meant you seen the game and willie joe coming on for the last twenty minutes. Regrets….I have had a few

  4. I think there are two sides to this argument. Firstly, from a footballing side your article is absolutely correct. Even with the mass emigration from the country in the last few years, its extremely unlikely that either London or New York would have enough quality and commitment to seriously threaten any of the other sides in Connacht.

    However, there is a wider point. Given that GAA is an intrinsic part of Irish communities abroad, maybe this game is a great way of connecting the Irish community in London and New York with its Irish relations (albeit only if they are from Connacht). Part of the excellent action plan led by Liam Horan involved harnessing potential from the Mayo diaspora for fundraising support etc. Surely these games could be a way of connecting those abroad with their home county?

    I was in Gaelic Park in 2009 and I spoke to a few people who emigrated about 50 years ago from Mayo and they got talking to people from the town they emigrated from etc. Just seemed like it gave them a new connection to a place they couldn’t visit again.

    Whether the expense involved in getting an inter-county team to play a game is worth it is a very valid question these days, I wouldn’t see the argument so clear cut.

  5. As an exile living in America for the last 13 years i love going to Gaelic Park for the championship games especially when Mayo are playing.Having never missed attending a championship game between 1981 and 1998 its nice to get a slice of home!

  6. Well I’m being selfish here as I live over in London, but I think a lot of good comes from these games.
    London GAA has been struggling in recent years in terms of numbers (a situation I’d imagine will change with the economic situation over home), these championship games tend to be the highlight of their calendar and a good motivation for players to sign up to London clubs.
    They are also a good way of getting young London kids (1st/2nd/3rd generation Irish) interested in the games. I know of some schools who advertise and promote the game and encourage kids to go out there.
    One of my first experiences of Gaelic games was a visit to Ruislip with my old fella to watch Mayo. Others I know have similar experiences.
    The social aspect of it can’t be underestimated either, it’s a great way of bringing exiled people together over here, particularly for those who don’t have the opportunity to get back home much.

    As well as that, the London players deserve some respect also. They train very hard for this game.
    It’s all well and good playing league games, but the championship is the championship after all, and a fitting reward for the players and staff who work very hard to keep Gaelic games alive in places like London and New York.
    More power to them.

  7. I don’t know why it has allways to be a Connacht team that plays the exiles. I don’t understand why other provinces don’t send their provincial champions etc to NY or London.
    After all Connacht is not the only province to suffer from emigration. Ideally it should be rotated on a 4 year basis between the provincial champions.

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