Sports have always brought people together. Typically, though, travelling overseas isn't part of the plan.
When it comes to Gaelic football, Irish-born players have no problem hopping on a plane to see a different culture as well as play the sport they love.
“For me to have these lads out here just brings a piece of home to me,” said John Young, head coach of the Pittsburgh Celtics senior team.
The senior team lost 44-31 to the Philadelphia Kevin Barry's Saturday night, while the Pittsburgh Celtics junior team played in the first Midwest GAA Championship at Founder's Field in Cheswick.
As part of the championship, the Celtics played in the Tom O'Donoghue Cup. Also playing were the Pucas, Pittsburgh's hurling team — a game similar to lacrosse — and the Pittsburgh Banshees, the women's Gaelic football team.
The juniors won their first game Saturday which qualified them for the NACB and GAA playoffs, even though they lost Sunday's game to the Cleveland St. Pats, 36-12.
But, while winning is nice, the cultural aspect of it is what's most important to those involved, and that is what brought a handful of Irish-born players to the U.S.
“Overall, it was very different than back at home,” said Conor Devlin of the Pittsburgh Celtics, who had been playing Gaelic since he was 7 in Ireland. He said it was something he wanted to play right away.
For Irish teammate Aaron McDonald, his first experience with Gaelic was a bit different.
“When I was child, it was just given to me,” he said. “It was just sort of drummed into me, I didn't have much of a choice.”
McDonald said he enjoys the culture of Gaelic and is glad he got involved with it. He joked around saying he chose to come to America because he was tired of the wet weather in Ireland. This being his first time in America, the only team he has played for are the Celtics.
Teammate Aidan McKiernan began his Gaelic football career in New York.
McKiernan compared all three cultures (Ireland, New York and Pittsburgh) and saw each as different experiences surrounded by one event.
“There were a lot more teams in New York,” McKiernan said. “Especially because there are more Irish out there.”
He said in New York they were split up into three divisions and had 12 teams in each division. And on his team, specifically, there were seven American players and 18 from Ireland. He added there were 15 players on the field when he played in New York, compared to 13 here.
He also said there were some cultural barriers that needed to be broken. For the Pittsburgh team, he said early on the Americans would stick together and the Irish players would stick together, and it took a while for them to mesh. But once they meshed they learned how to play well with each other, and he has enjoyed his experience since.
A part of that positive experience comes from what Young has done with the Irish players in helping them get acclimated in the city. Young said he and organizers of the Pittsburgh Celtics help find the Irish players jobs and housing so they have a way of living; they are not paid to play Gaelic football.
And that is what Young believes is most important — the culture.
“I'm glad they can come here and bring the sport to our lads here,” he said. “We have a fine American team, and the Irish guys are brought here to complement them.”
Wynston Wilcox is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @wynstonw_.