Sep. 28, 2020, By Michael Dorgan
“I don’t know if it’s an ignorance or what it is they got from the Irish side but they just never give up.”
History was made at Gaelic Park on Sunday as St Barnabas became the first team made up of all American born players to win the New York senior football championship.
The homegrown side overcame reigning champions Sligo – and a 10-point deficit going into the last quarter of regulation time – to clinch the title after extra-time in a pulsating final replay.
Experience seemed to have finally trumped youth in this momentous saga but St Barnabas would not be denied their place in the record books in a comeback befitting of the achievement.
They swarmed forward and clawed their way back into this titanic contest before eventually coming out on top by 4-19 to 4-15.
Two goals from Tiernan Mathers in the space of 30 seconds just before the extra-time interval was the ultimate difference between the sides after 160 minutes of quality football played out in the space of a week.
That second goal – and Mathers third of the afternoon – was a good a score as you will see on any pitch in Ireland this year, the 21-year-old deftly chipping the ball over Sligo net-minder Vinny Cadden and into the net.
“I don’t know if it’s an ignorance or what it is they got from the Irish side but they just never give up,” said Barnabas manager Johnny McGeaney afterwards.
“The belief in the young boys is something else.”
The prevailing view going into the encounter was that the experience of defending champions Sligo – a team anchored with several former inter-county players, including former Galway hurler Johnny Glynn – would not give the young Barnabas side a second bite at the Big Apple gong.
The fact that the Yeats men let slip such a wide margin is testament to the tenacity of a St Barnabas team who hail from the Woodlawn Heights area of north Bronx and McLean Avenue in southeast Yonkers.
“I believe the extra game suited us, and game time suited us, they never ever die,” McGeaney said.
St. Barnabas had started strongest and racked up an 8-6 lead inside 25 minutes before the towering Glynn – stationed at full forward – knocked a loose shot down to Dylan McCabe who poked the ball home for the opening goal.
Niall Murphy tapped a free over to give Sligo a two-point lead at half-time and they added two more points after resumption courtesy of Stephen Curley and Niall Murphy.
Mathers then netted a well worked team goal from the kick out before Gearoid Kennedy levelled matters at 1-9 apiece. Sligo then powered ahead to score 2-4 without reply and Barnabas’ day of destiny seemed to have gone up in smoke.
But St Barnabas found another gear and, playing with absolute abandon, they outran, outworked and outfought a Sligo team who found themselves desperately gazing at the clock to run out.
Gearoid Kennedy slotted home from the penalty spot as Barnabas chipped the deficit back to a single point.
Then, in the final minute, Mathers rose highest to punch a dropping 45’ over the bar to send the tie to extra time – and the predominantly Barnabas crowd wild.
Mathers, who has played at senior intercounty level for New York then put his stamp on the contest in extra time with his brace giving St Barnabas a six-point lead at the break and they held out to clinch their first ever title.
The win, according to New York County chair Joan Henchy, is validation for years of hard work by the St Barnabas club as well as the county and minor boards to develop American-born talent.
It also proves that homegrown players can compete with their Irish-born counterparts at the top level, Henchy said.
“You give them the tools and you give them the opportunities they’ll come, they absolutely love it,” Henchy said.
“They eat and die for this game and it was evident when they went 10 points down.”
This year’s championships was devoid of the influx of summer sanctions due to travel restrictions but Henchy maintains it only served to shine a light on what the homegrown players have to offer.
“It just shows that we’re quite capable of competing in New York without sanctions and transfers or importing [players],” she said.
“We do have the talent here at home.”
The fact that the St Barnabas squad have stayed together since underage is no mean feat, considering the lure of university scholarships attached to American sports and the tendency for students to move away from home to study at third level.
The players have competed at Continental Youth Championships, Féile, the World Games, and the British Universities Championships and the backbone of the squad is made up of four sets of brothers.
“Its been a way of life,” said St Barnabas captain Conor Rafferty.
“The majority of us have been playing with this club since we were six, seven years of age and to come up to the senior level in just a couple of years and win the senior championship is absolutely unbelievable.
“It’s a feeling that we’ll remember forever and we look forward to keep this momentum going and keep pushing forward.”
Elsewhere, in the senior hurling championship final, Hoboken Guards claimed their own scalp of New York history by completing three in a row against Tipperary on a scoreline of 2-22 to 2-19.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on Sep. 28, 2020.