Cavan hopes to make more GAA history with New York help on polo grounds project

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The Cavan GAA is taking its New York history and creating a new Polo Grounds Centre of Excellence back home.

The famous old Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan, former home to the New York Yankees, New York Mets and the New York Jets, hosted the first and only All-Ireland senior football final ever played outside of Ireland. 

The year was 1947, the 100th centenary of the Irish Famine.  The finalists from Cavan and Kerry made the trip to New York – the Cavan men spent 30 hours on a plane, while Kerry took days to arrive by ship – and 30,000 enthusiastic fans headed to the Polo Grounds for the historic event.

Cavan won by four points, 2-11 to 2-7, and to this day the outcome remains a source of huge pride for supporters of the Breffni County which has won only two All-Ireland finals since.

The Polo Grounds are long gone, demolished in 1964 after the Mets and Jets decamped for the shiny new Shea Stadium in Queens, but they haven’t been forgotten.  In fact, they are poised to rise again – in Cavan.

Plans are at an advanced stage for the creation of a new GAA base in the county which will promote the development of native Irish games for girls and boys, women and men, senior teams and those just getting started. 

Its official name?  The Cavan GAA Polo Grounds Centre of Excellence, a fitting nod to an illustrious past.

American-based natives and friends of Cavan will have the chance to discover more about the ambitious project at a special night scheduled for Rory Dolan’s on McLean Avenue in Yonkers on Saturday, September 28 at 8 p.m.   

Cavan senior football boss Mickey Graham will be on hand for a question and answer session, and many volunteers who are leading the effort to fundraise for the center will be seeking helping hands on this side of the pond to promote the main initiative to date – the sale of €100 raffle tickets, with the grand prize winner taking title to a new €375,000 house in Dublin.

New York restaurateur and publican Connie O’Reilly, a native of Ballinagh, Co. Cavan who is spearheading the American-based efforts to raise awareness and funds for the center, told the Irish Voice during a recent interview that incorporating the Polo Grounds history into the new center was the right thing to do. 

“About four years ago a group of us went up to see the place where the original Polo Grounds were located.  It’s all public housing now.  The Cavan team was here at the time to play a couple of games against the New York all-stars to prepare them for the Connacht Championship,” O’Reilly recalled.

“We started talking about a new GAA center for Cavan, and the visit to the Polo Grounds stayed with us. Everybody seemed to like the idea of bringing the name back to Ireland for a new Polo Grounds in Cavan.  I think it would be a shame to let the name evaporate. 

“And the occasion back in 1947 was extremely important not only because it was the first final played outside of Ireland, but also for the remembrance of our history, An Gorta Mor, when a million Irish were starved to death and millions more had to leave to feed themselves.”

Read more: GAA loving American comedian goes wild at Croke Park for All-Ireland final

O’Reilly, the owner of the Crover House Hotel in Cavan and multiple successful businesses in New York, two of which are namesake bars and restaurants, assembled a committee to support the proposed new facility as the logistical work was being done back home.  The first task was finding a suitable location to build the center.

“Cavan is behind a number of counties that surround us.  Many of them have already developed their own centers,” says Alan O’Mara, a former goalkeeper for the county senior panel who is leading the fundraising efforts for the new Polo Grounds.

As luck would have it, several acres of land became available right next to Kingspan Breffni Park, the 30,000 seat stadium where Cavan plays its home games.  Fundraising and assistance from GAA headquarters in Croke Park allowed the Cavan GAA to purchase 25 acres, and planning permission for the new facility was obtained.  Excavation work has begun, and going forward the main objective will be enlisting the support of those with Cavan roots no matter where they may be.

The donation of a brand new three-bedroom house in Dublin valued at €375,000 to the Polo Grounds cause has created lots of excitement so far.  The home, in the town of Hansfield, about 25 minutes from the city center, is part of a new development and has never been lived in. Raffle tickets are €100 apiece, and so far over 3,000 have been sold.

The Roscommon GAA held a similar fundraiser last year and it was hugely successful.  The net profit was €940,000 after the sale of 14,000 tickets.  Cavan is hoping for a similar result.

“It’s a high-level fundraiser that we launched in March and will keep going until the end of the year,” says O’Mara.  “Anyone from anywhere the world can buy a ticket online (www.winindublin15.ie), and the draw will take place on December 30 at the Hotel Kilmore in Cavan.  The draw will be streamed live on Facebook as well.  It’s really a great opportunity for someone to own a beautiful new home for only €100.”

Cavan is one of the smaller counties in Ireland, but its GAA roots continue to run deep.  It’s traditionally a footballing county – the Cavan seniors reached this year’s Ulster final – but there is a hurling side as well.  Ladies football is huge, and underage teams are thriving.  Bringing them all together in one facility will facilitate more growth, O’Mara says.

“The GAA is very vibrant in Cavan,” he adds.  “And that’s one of the fundamental reasons why we need a center. What we have at the moment cannot cater to the demand that we have, particularly in ladies football.”

Robert Maloney Derham, a native of Cavan who also played on the senior team before moving to New York where he works as an attorney, says the chance for Cavan teams of all ages to mix together in one place is hugely important.

“If you are in a county development squad, maybe on the under-14 or under-15 team, and you’re playing in the same facility as the star senior players, that’s a huge inspirational factor,” Maloney Derham told the Irish Voice.

“This facility will have multiple dressing rooms and three pitches, so you might have an underage team training next to the seniors on the other pitch.  And maybe they could be eating at the same tables afterwards.  That’s going to be great for the kids.”

The event on the 28th in Rory Dolan’s will be a chance for Cavan people in the New York metro area and beyond to catch up and socialize.  During the last big wave of emigration from the 1970s to the 1990s, Cavan natives headed primarily to New York and Philadelphia, O’Reilly says, and many of them stayed for good.

“We are looking to reach out to these people now to let them know what’s going on back home,” he added.

O’Mara agrees.  “We see the event as one where people can come together. Maybe they haven’t seen each other in a while, or maybe they can meet people from home who they didn’t even know were here.  It will be a celebration of Cavan,” he says.

“It will be informal but important nonetheless. We want to show them the new Polo Grounds and have them feel inspired by it.  They might think, ‘Wow, I wish that was there when I was growing up.’  We want people to feel that emotional connection and hopefully be willing to lend the project support.”

Besides buying individual raffle tickets, people and/or businesses can commit to taking a book of 20 tickets and selling them to their own networks. 

“If we had 50 people taking a book and selling them, that would be huge and so helpful,” O’Reilly says.

Though the focus is on filling Rory Dolan’s on the 28th with Cavan friends and supporters in and around New York, the effort to bring the center to fruition is a global one.  Raffle tickets have been sold to those living in many parts of the world, and such outreach will continue in the months ahead.

“Sometimes there’s the expectation that you come to New York to do your fundraising and go home and it’s all sorted. That’s not the case at all.   This is very much a global diaspora effort,” O’Mara says.

The new Polo Grounds Centre of Excellence will also include a state of the art gymnasium, changing facilities and a walking/running track which anyone will be able to use.  

“We want the Polo Grounds to be multi-purpose, to cater to people’s needs.  We want to give people a better platform and an opportunity to be the best they can be,” says O’Mara.

“If they want to try and win an All-Ireland with their team, that’s great.  And if they just want to be part of a place that’s safe and enjoyable and part of the community, that’s great too.”

For information on the Polo Grounds Centre of Excellence, visit www.cavangaa.ie/pologrounds. Admission to the Rory Dolan’s event, which includes a buffet, is free. Rory Dolan’s is located at 890 McLean Avenue, Yonkers. Raffle tickets are available at www.winindublin15.ie

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