Forget the Fitzgibbon Cup, there is a new collegiate GAA hurling tournament in town. Brian barry discusses the impending explosion of US hurling at college level.
This May in Montana, USA, University teams from all corners of the United States will compete in a 27,000 all-seater stadium to be crowned national champions.
This will be a revolutionary step for the National Collegiate GAA, NCGAA, which was established in 2011. The inaugural National Hurling Championship was held in 2011, and was won by Indiana University. From there, the tournament has gone from strength to strength.
Last May, the event was held in Gaeilic Park, New York. The University of Montana Grizzlies captured the crown, in front of a large crowd in the historic venue.
In just its first year, the Montana Grizzlies were crowned national champions. Set up by Kilkenny man Naoise Waldron, the club has strong ties with University College Cork, with exchange students hurling for the side.
This link is represented in the club’s crest, as the famous skull and crossbones sit beside the grizzly bear. However, it is not just Irish who make up the team, with homegrown talent representing the majority.
Montana, a state in the north-west of America, is steeped in Irish culture. Despite a history of Gaelic Football, there is no record of a hurling club ever existing in the state. The small town of Missoula, Montana, with a population of 70,000, is predominantly an American Football city.
The ‘Griz’ football team consistently punches above their weight, and Washington Grizzly stadium is revered as one of the best atmospheres around, and was ranked in the nation’s top 10 college football game-day experiences. Simply, the ground is a cauldron of noise.
The stadium is now set to host the NCGAA Hurling Championship on May 23rd and 24th. A crowd of potentially 2,000 is expected, and it can only further the growing popularity of the sport in the area.
Waldron, who is also captain of Montana, spoke exclusively to Pundit Arena:
“We’re delighted to be able to host this event as defending champions. It’s not too often a team gets to defend a title on their home campus, so this’ll be huge for the players and the club. This year is a complete role reversal from last year, we are now the team to beat, but we’re fine with that.”
Teams from all over the States will flock to Montana for the event. 2013 Champions University of California Berkeley will be eager to go better than their semi-final loss in New York last year. Stanford also will come from California to ensure a strong presence from the west coast.
Meanwhile, Kean University from New Jersey are steadily improving and growing in numbers, winning the NECGAA (North-East NCGAA) Championship before Christmas.
The University of Connecticut will be another side keen to improve following a strong showing last year, while Pittsburgh, Purdue, and Indiana University all promise to be competitive.
This standard is expected to be higher than ever, and Waldron thinks many in Ireland would be surprised at the talent of the homegrown American hurlers.
“Some of the lads here, and girls, would more than handle themselves at home. There’s no doubt they’d be comfortable at intermediate level, given time to adjust to the pace. Some of the most dedicated and athletic hurlers I’ve played with are right here in Griz Jerseys.”
So there you have. May 23rd and 24th. Washington Grizzly Stadium, Missoula, Montana. Chalk it down, and book the flights! Pundit Arena will bring you all the build-up and action from what promises to be a massive stride in the development of hurling in the United States.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.