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big apple It is a myth that we earned big bucks - by the time you go home, the dollars were spent

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The RTÉ commentary team of Darren Frehill, Pat Spillane and Rory O'Brien during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship quarter-final match between New York and Sligo at Gaelic Park in New York, USA. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

The RTÉ commentary team of Darren Frehill, Pat Spillane and Rory O'Brien during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship quarter-final match between New York and Sligo at Gaelic Park in New York, USA. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

The RTÉ commentary team of Darren Frehill, Pat Spillane and Rory O'Brien during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship quarter-final match between New York and Sligo at Gaelic Park in New York, USA. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

By the time you read this, the final whistle will have long blown on New York and Sligo’s Connacht Championship clash. But New York and the All-Ireland Championship hold special significance for my family.

My late uncle Dinny Lyne captained Kerry in the famous 1947 All-Ireland final played in the Polo Grounds in New York. It was the only decider ever to be played outside Ireland.

More than 34,000 thronged the Polo Grounds to watch Cavan beat Kerry by 2-11 to 2-7. It was probably the only time players had to endure temperatures over 30 degrees during an All-Ireland final.

Preparation is the key to success in sport.

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Players from both sides watch as the ball comes back off the post during the 2022 Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between New York and Sligo at Gaelic Park in New York, USA. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Players from both sides watch as the ball comes back off the post during the 2022 Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between New York and Sligo at Gaelic Park in New York, USA. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Players from both sides watch as the ball comes back off the post during the 2022 Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between New York and Sligo at Gaelic Park in New York, USA. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

In 1947, Cavan got it right – they travelled by plane from Ireland. The journey took 30 hours as they had to go via the Azores.

Kerry opted to go by boat. It was a much longer, arduous and tiring journey.

This took its toll on match day. As with Tyrone last year, whoever said Kerry were cute hoors?

Until the day he died, my uncle Dinny got angry when he talked about the game.

He vehemently argued that refereeing decisions cost Kerry the match.

He used to say to me – ‘If the Sunday Game was around in 1947, you would have had a field day highlighting the refereeing mistakes.’

By the way, don’t ever kid yourself with the notion that Kerry are gallant losers. We’re not.

My own experiences as a player in the Big Apple extend from 1974 when I played with the Limerick junior team until 1994 when – if memory serves me right – I played with Clare.

I probably made as many as 40 transatlantic journeys to play football during those 20 years.

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Sometimes I would leave Shannon Airport on a Saturday morning and be back teaching in Bantry by noon on Monday.

It is a myth that we earned big bucks. Sure, our expenses were covered, but by the time you boarded the flight home, the dollars had been long spent.

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Playing in New York holds fond memories for Pat Spllane

Playing in New York holds fond memories for Pat Spllane

Playing in New York holds fond memories for Pat Spllane

I think I played with about seven clubs in the city.

I have two New York Senior Championship and two New York Junior Championship medals in my collection.

So, did these clubs get top-class performances from me?

Hand on heart, the answer is no. Frankly, I was a bad investment.

Players had two choices once they touched down at JFK Airport.

We could either lock ourselves away in our hotel and prepare properly for the game or enjoy ourselves.

I faithfully followed what the chimpanzee in my head kept saying: ‘Spillane, you are in the wildest city in the world. Go and enjoy yourself’.

The other issue for all the weekend guests from Ireland was we were guaranteed a special ‘welcome’ in Gaelic Park.

Basically, we were targeted by every ‘hatchet’ man on the opposition – and frankly, in those days, there was no shortage of them.

I used to wonder if the only function the referee performed back then was to throw in the ball, record the scores and blow the final whistle. Because otherwise, it was like the Wild West.

I loved Gaelic Park and wanted to do my best for my adopted club. But I wasn’t prepared to put my body on the line for the cause. Life was too short for that, I reckoned.

I could write a book on some of the crazy incidents.

On one trip, the team manager brought us to a pub he owned on the Friday night and let us drink for free all night.

He hoped this might deter us from going out again the night before the game. From memory, I don’t think it worked.

On another occasion, I was due to play for a junior club side. In the middle of the night, I got a call from Aer Lingus to inform me that my ticket had been cancelled.

Apparently, the sponsor of the club’s senior side didn’t want me playing with the junior team and persuaded the travel agent who had made the booking to cancel it.

I still made it to New York. Somebody turned up in Shannon and paid for my flight in cash.

On another trip, I was due to play alongside a star player who was also travelling from Ireland.

However, by the time we had made it through immigration in New York, he had changed sides. I think the Jerry Maguire ‘show me the money’ approach had worked.

The 1984 New York final between Donegal and Cavan really took the biscuit. Up to 30 high-profile players from Ireland were flown out.

How high was the standard? Well, lads who had played in the All-Ireland final a couple of weeks earlier were substitutes.

The New York Board was not affiliated with the GAA at the time so normal playing rules didn’t apply – at least as far as Donegal was concerned. They brought on ten replacements.

My happiest memories, and you’ll struggle with this, are from the times I lined out with Tyrone and wore their white-and-red jersey.

Little did I think that a few years later I would be public enemy No 1 in the county.

The greatest player I played with, outside Kerry, was Tyrone’s Frank McGuigan.

Everybody knows about his heroics in the 1984 Ulster final against Armagh, when he came back from the US.

He scored 11 points from play – five with his right foot and five with his left, and one punched.

I saw him giving even better performances in Gaelic Park.

Based on that evidence, I would rate Frank as good, if not better, than Peter Canavan.

Heresy to some, but I saw Frank at his very best.

My outstanding memory from the New York leg of my career is an infamous match in which I lined out for Kerry against Dublin on a water-logged pitch in Gaelic Park nearly 44 years ago.

The game was to raise funds for Sr Consilio’s residential centre in Cuan Mhuire, then a treatment centre for alcoholism.

After losing to Dublin in the 1976 All-Ireland final and the 1977 semi-final, Kerry were beginning to think the Dubs had the Indian sign over us.

Specifically, we felt that they were dominating us physically – we felt it when we were tackled by a Dublin player.

So, on that horrible May Sunday in 1978, we decided to lay down a marker – and fight fire with fire.

The result was a free-for-all. Three players were sent off and at least half a dozen more should have followed them.

But we won and, in doing so, we set down the foundation for all the success which followed between 1978 and 1986.

Amazingly, Kerry didn’t lose another championship game to Dublin until 2011.

I ended up with a broken nose and was off to see the elderly doctor on duty in Gaelic Park.

He was reading The New York Times and he peeped over the top of the paper and asked me what was wrong.

Considering blood was spurting from my nose, I thought it was fairly obvious.

He suggested I wash the blood off my face, look in the mirror and tell him whether my nose looked different.

Sure enough, it was crooked. When I told him, he stayed seated and pronounced: ‘well, you probably have broken your nose then.’

Bringing high-profile players over from Ireland brought huge crowds to Gaelic Park. But it was a short-term gain and did nothing to lay down a future for the GAA in the Big Apple.

Thankfully, from a GAA perspective, those days are gone.

The GAA in New York is focused now on developing homegrown talent. They have 1,800 registered players between the ages of 14 and 18.

There are 13 youth GAA clubs in the city – while Rockland and Shannon Gaels have developed their facilities.

Sunday was a big day for the GAA in New York, with the game against Sligo televised live on GAAGO.

We talk a lot about Irishness and what it means to be a Fíor Gael.

The term once had a very narrow definition – it meant an Irish person living in Ireland, speaking Irish and voting for either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

But Ireland is now a multicultural and multi-ethnic society.

The modern Fíor Gael can be found in all corners of the world.

GAA clubs abroad are no different from the home-based ones: their mission is to keep the ‘spirit of the little village’ alive, regardless of where it is, to provide the glue to hold communities together.

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