The night before Christmas may have not had a creature stirring, but the night before Easter sure did in New York City as the New York GAA began their Connacht Senior Football Championship pursuit.
The match pitted New York against Leitrim, with New York as the overwhelming underdogs having never won a Connacht Senior Football Championship game ever, while Leitrim had won two Connacht Provincial titles.
But, with the home field advantage at Gaelic Park, with opposition having to travel over 5 hours by flight and surely more by bus, with many time zones past as well, the New Yorkers felt they had a chance!
The Bronx was warring to see their favorite club team, the most historic in American Gaelic Football, take the field.
However, the packed crowed with only standing room and grass seating left would soon feel overwhelmed as Leitrim opened the match scoring the first three points, all frees to lead 0-3 (3) to 0-0 (0).
The traveling Leitrim supporters were happy to be given this early cushion of a lead because only five years prior, Leitrim barely scraped past New York via a one point extra-time win.
The largely pro-New Yorker crowed were not too happy to find their home side down, especially since five years ago New York started off up 1-4 (7) to 0-1 (1), only to lose because of Leitrim’s superior footballing prowress.
So, being down so early seemed like it could be a sign of worse to come.
Yet, New York is not known for giving up and former Dublin star, Shane Carthy, scored New York’s first on a left footed free to make it New York 0-1 (1) Leitrim 0-3 (3). Maybe a change in momentum was to come thought the fans from the Empire State?
And they got their answer three minutes later as both Peter Fox and Shane Brosnan would score frees to level the score at 0-3 (3) to 0-3 (3)!
New York was back!
However, football is football and Leitrim would garner back the advantage just two minutes later to go up 0-5 (5) to 0-3 (3).
Did no one want a goal?
New York would get one back from Mikey Brosnan (18′) on a free, before Leitrim scored again on a free (21′).
Perhaps, the most important play of the first half came on the defensive end when New York’s goalkeeper Mick Cunningham was able to come out to block a Keith Beirne (Leitrim) kick at goal (22′).
In the 24th minute, Daniel O’Sullivan (New York) got a free to bring it within one yet again!
The celebration did not last long as Leitrim put in a good opportunity for another goal that hit the outside netting.
In the 28th minute, former Cork footballer Mark Ellis (New York) was fouled leading to a 21m kick by Adrian Varley (New York) who scored for the home team to make it 0-6 (6) to 0-6 (6). The score was tied once again!
And finally, The Bronx would erupt with joy when their home side finally took the lead in the 33rd minute thanks to a Mark Ellis free.
New York would go into half-time up 0-7 (7) to 0-6 (6).
The 8,000 to 9,000 ruacus New Yorkers were keen for the second half as their beloved Exiles were seeking their first win in twenty-two tries, dating back all the way to 1999.
Leirtim would strike first in the second half with a free from Mark Plunkett (38′) before New York retook the lead only a minute later thanks to another free by Adrian Varley (New York leads 0-8 (8) to 0-7 (7)).
However, not all was good for New York.
The 40s proved to be Leitrim’s decade of minutes as they scored three unanswered frees (42′, 44′, and 46′) to make it Leitrim 0-10 (10) New York 0-8 (8).
Would the hosts be able to come back, or were the country with Irish NFL experience going to go back across the Atlantic with the chance to win Connacht and Ireland still in hand?
Luckily for New York, the 50s belonged to New York as the home team scored two frees unanswered (54′ and 55′) to notch the match back up, now at 0-10 (10) to 0-10 (10).
New York goalkeeper Mark Cunningham came up for a free attempt in the 58th minute and barely missed, but luckily for him, he got another chance at a free in the 60th minute and scored to put the hosts back up with New York leading 0-11 (11) to 0-10 (10).
Leitrim’s substitute Evan Sweeny was determined not to let New York win and he scored two frees back to back (61′ and 66′) to put the visitors back up by a single point!
New York headed into added time down by a single point, but seven minutes were added on!
New York would capitalize on this opportunity with a substitute free from New York’s Jack Reiley (70+3′) to nod things back up at 0-12 (12) to 0-12 (12)!
Yet, this joy was short lived for New York as the visitors retook the lead on another Keith Beirne free (70+5′).
New York headed into the final minute of added time needing at the very least, a free to extend the match!
And New York’s Shane Carthy did it! He scored a free to tie the match up at 0-13 (13) to 0-13 (13)! Never had the number 13 been so lucky for New York!
It was now extra-time!
Leitrim started the better in extra-time with another Evan Sweeney free to go up 0-14 (14) to 0-13 (13) in the second minute of extra-time.
Leitrim’s Oisín McLoughlin looked to score a sure match sealing goal, but once again, New York’s Mick Cunningham was there for a massive save in the sixth minute of extra-time.
This save kept New York within striking distance and New York’s Connell Ahearne would capitalize on a free in the ninth minute of extra-time to bring the score back level at 0-14 (14) to 0-14 (14)!
Then, in the second minute of added time in the first half of extra time, New York went up with another Connell Ahearne free to put New York up 0-15 (15) to 0-14 (14) at the extra-time half time!
Was it dejavu?
Unfortunately for the Big Apple, Keith Beirne was still out there for Leitrim and in the 13th minute of extra time, Keith Beirne would score a free to level things back up!
And that would be it for extra-time as New York and Leitrim would be tied at 0-15 (15) to 0-15 (15)!
A penalty kick shoot-out was next!
New York’s Tiernan Mathers headed to the spot and had his kick saved by Leitrim’s goalkeeper Nevin O’Donnell.
New York’s Mick Cunningham then saved the next kick to close out Round 1 of penalties at 0-0.
Killian Butler (New York) kicked a good kick next only for Nevin O’Donnell to save the shot with his feet!
Keith Beirne then went to the spot to face off against his new archnemis, Mick Cunningham, and Mick Cunningham would prove the better saving another shot at goal! Mick, Mick, hurray! Round 2 of spot kicks ended 0-0.
Next up was New York’s Niall Madine who decided that being on-target was most important as you cannot score if you kick your own ball away from goal. Therefore, Niall Madine kicked the ball with his right foot straight down the middle and scored to put New York up 1-0 in the penalty kick shoot-out! This was also the first goal of the match of any sort!
Leitrim’s Shane Quinn, however, was unable to heed the internal advice given to his opponent Niall as Shane missed the shot hitting the cross bar. New York led 1-0 in the penalty kick shoot-out after Round 3 of kicks.
New York’s Jack Reilly seemed to get the missing infection from Shane Quinn and kicked his chance wide.
Then, Leitrim’s Evan Sweeny hit his chance off the post, which kept New York up 1-0 after Round 4 of spot kicks!
This set-up what would be a story book ending!
22 year old and New York native, Mikey Brosnan, came to the spot with a chance to put his name in American Gaelic Football history, and the sport’s record books with a chance to send New York to the Connacht Senior Football Championship Semi-finals if he could score to win New York its first championship level match!
Mikey Brosnan kicked the ball with power to the top left of the goal net and scored past the outstretched arms of Nevin O’Donnell to win New York the penalty kick shoot-out 2-0, as well as win New York GAA their first Connacht Senior Football Championship match ever!
With this 0-15 (15) to 0-15 (15), 2-0 (P), victory for New York GAA, New York becomes the first county outside of Ireland and Great Britain to ever win a provincial championship match!
New York GAA and London GAA (Great Britain) compete in the Connacht Province for the provincial senior football championships so they can attempt qualification at the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, the most important Gaelic Football tournament! The Connacht Senior Football Championship is part of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.
The other teams in the competition across all four provinces are Irish county teams, and thus for the purposes of GAA competition, New York GAA and London GAA are both county teams.
Earlier on Saturday, County Sligo were able to defeat London GAA 2-20 (26) to 0-12 (12) at McGovern Park in the London Borough of Hillingdon.
As such, New York GAA will play County Sligo next in the Connacht Senior Football Championship at Markievicz Park in County Sligo.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket will see County Galway face the winner of the County Mayo-County Roscommon match.
The bracket thus favors both New York and Sligo and should provide for a fun semi-final! Last year, both sides played to a thrilling 0-15 (15) to 1-16 (19) Sligo win at Gaelic Park in New York.
This New York win on Holy Saturday may not seem like a huge deal to the casual fan of Gaelic Football, but for New York, this win is huge.
Recently, New York has seen an uptick in participation numbers and with more and more domestic juniors and seniors coming through the ranks, a momentous win will do wonders for the sport in the Big Apple.
In the past, Irish exiles have dominated New York’s team and still do, but far less than they used to.
This was supposed to make New York’s chances at victory nearly impossible, but the Americans on New York’s team and in the New York competitions have proven to be at a worthy level and have actually elevated New York to never before seen heights!
Furthermore, as Gaelic Football looks to continue its social status as Ireland’s top football code against the likes of soccer and rugby union, it is the growth of the sport in the diaspora that can help push the sport into the wider lexicon of what it means to be Irish!
Surely, with New York’s 400,000 plus Irish population, and the wider 36 million plus Irish-American population in the USA, Gaelic Football will once again be a topic of debate among many families seeing that their best county team has beaten an Irish county team in senior provincial championship level football.
The future for USA GAA now looks bright once again in football and with growing presence across the nation at all levels of the game including in the universities, we should see more New York victories. And possibly, like their London counterparts, we might see New York play NFL (Gaelic) in the near future.
As for now, most American Gaelic Football fans will be eager to circle the date of the County Sligo match once a date is announced.