New York, New York... Armagh native Johnny McGeeney guides Bronx club St Barnabas to Big Apple double
IF you can make it there you can make it anywhere, as Sinatra sang. Culloville native Johnny McGeeney made it two in-a-row in New York last weekend when his St Barnabas side successfully defended their senior championship title.
Fielding a team made up entirely of New York-born players, the Bronx club defeated Sligo GAC (who include GAA President Larry McCarthy among their membership) 1-14 to 1-9 in the decider at Gaelic Park.
A goal from former Galway All-Ireland-winning hurler Jonny Glynn handed Sligo the early initiative and they raced into a five-point lead after 10 minutes and were still 1-6 to 0-6 at the interval. But Conor Mathers levelled for St Barnabas early in the restart and Mikey Brosnan, Sean Reilly, Luke Kelly, Caolain Mathers and Tiarnan Mathers all added scores to seal a fully-deserved victory.
Manager McGeeney (a relation of Armagh manager Kieran) was an Intermediate Championship winner with Culloville Blues in 2011 and just three days’ after that success in the Orchard County he left for ‘the Big Apple’.
He had played club football in New York with the Armagh side but, after moving there permanently, he got involved with the St Barnabas club at underage level and progressed to the senior team three years ago. The 35-year-old has propelled the club to back-to-back titles – last year’s success (a fightback from 10 points down) was the first championship title in the club’s history.
“All the players would have grown up within two or three miles of ‘Paddy’s Field’ (the St Barnabas club grounds) which is right on McLean Avenue in Woodlawn,” says McGeeney.
“It’s a predominantly Irish area, all the lads who played every one of their parents would be Irish but they were all born and bred in New York. There were three lads playing on Sunday and their mother is from Mayo and the father is a Tyrone man!
“There would be a big Kerry connection too but they’re from all over Ireland.”
Unlike their rivals, who fielded Galway footballer Peter Cook alongside their goal-scorer Glynn, and many other clubs in the USA, St Barnabas have concentrated on bringing through home-grown players.
That policy is paying off says McGeeney who explained: “At the start of the year there was ourselves, New York Rangers, Sligo, Donegal and Brooklyn Shamrocks.
“In the league we played all the other teams once and the top two progressed to the final and we won that. In the championship it was the same situation but you had to play everyone twice – the top team went to the final and second played third for the other spot. We went the whole season unbeaten which is probably the first time ever.
“The boys have all been brilliant. Last year people said they were lucky to win the championship and they wouldn’t do it again. When we went five points down you could see the Sligo supporters starting to cheer but the boys just kept going and they ran out convincing winners. The scenes at the end and the celebrations were great.”
St Barnabas player Shane Hogan has already represented the New York county side and McGeeney is confident that the Mathers brothers (their father Collie is a native of Killeavy, their mother is from Longstone) will follow in his foosteps before long.
“Tiarnan, Conor and Caolain are unbelievable footballers,” he says.
“And Paudie, who played on our junior team this year, is another one. Tiarnan Mathers would walk on to the Armagh team if he went home but he’s more of a Down man.
“I can see New York challenging for wins in the next few years if they go the way I’m trying to take it which is with the Irish-Americans. At the minute we have too many lads coming out for a summer and playing for New York and then, when they get beat, going on home.
“I am over the New York development squad and we won the World Games at Croke Park and I had the college team and we were beat in the final by Liverpool the year before last – we were very unlucky.”
Next year McGeeney will take charge of the New York side that will enter the All-Ireland Junior Football Championship and he has high hopes for the team in that competition. With New York-based Larry McCarthy serving as President of the GAA, the future does look bright for teams from across the Atlantic.
“Larry is a good lad and he knows a lot about the GAA so him being president is beneficial for New York,” says McGeeney.
“He is there for New York - he is representing New York.”
The St Barnabas junior side are at the semi-final stage of their championship so McGeeney, who plans to step down as manager at the end of this season, is busy preparing them while juggling family life and running his own business.
“We have three teams going at the club – Junior A, Junior B and the seniors. At training we never would have had any less than 25. I’ve heard of teams at home who are only getting 12 or 13 at sessions and you can’t do much with those numbers, so we’re going well.”