Back in the USA
You may remember at the end of my first American article I suggested that GAA clubs should allow their young players to spend a couple of summers in the U.S with their blessing. To be fair the first time I flew to the States I did so on good terms with my club. The second time around was a different story.
As soon as I was dropped from the county panel at the start of the National League the phone calls from America started. I was obviously very upset at being dropped from the county panel so the idea of spending the summer far away from all the local newspapers and radio stations appealed. The fact that two clubs from Boston plus a third from Chicago were all offering me serious money to hurl didn’t do any harm either. In the end I opted for one of the Boston clubs because a few of my friends were also going along.
When I informed my club that I was going they were not happy. They actually dropped me for the last championship game before I left. I was missing just one championship match while I was away so I thought the club were being unreasonable in asking me to stay. It all became a little bitter. Between being dropped from the county panel and then being dropped by my club for that match, by the time early June rolled around I could not wait to leave the country.
Now I am stating the obvious here but East and West coast America are completely different. It may sound clichéd but San Francisco does have a very laid-back vibe. The training sessions we used to have there seemed to reflect that. We would spend more time joking around and chatting to each other than doing drills. Boston has a different energy and again this was reflected in the hurling. The hurling there is of a very high standard. If I had thought I was going to have ninety days of pure ‘chilling’ I was mistaken. The intensity of the training in the heat took a bit of getting used to.
The other big contrast with my first stint in America was how hard I had to work. As with the first time in San Fran, in Boston I was also working construction. However the building job I was on in Boston was proper, physical labour. The full time workers on this job were serious men. I remember I got my first warning from the foreman when I fell asleep on the job one morning due to a heavy hangover and lack of sleep from the night before. I think the only thing that saved me from being fired on the spot was that he was Irish and obviously only giving me the job as a favour to the GAA club.
The second time I got into trouble on that job illustrates just how naïve as a young lad I was. One of the responsibilities I was given was to look after the portaloos. There were half a dozen of these toilets lined up on the side of the street outside the building we were renovating. When any of the workers wanted to relieve themselves they just came and asked me and I unlocked the cubicles for them. It was a simple task. We had to keep them locked because there were quite a few addicts and homeless people in the area.
There were lots of Mexicans labouring on the job. They were tough, hard working men with little English so there wasn’t much small talk or messing with them. Anyway, one day in particular I seemed to spend every minute I had letting Mexicans into the toilets. I was getting nothing else done. I was just starting to get a bit suspicious when next thing I know there are tyres screeching, police sirens wailing and Mexicans darting off in all directions. The foreman comes down to investigate and starts talking to the police officers. Then they start looking over at me and I am called over. My heart stopped. I am sure I am about to be deported or even banged up for working illegally; but instead the police officers and my boss start tearing into me for letting all the local drug users shoot up in our toilets.
The Mexicans I had been letting into the toilets were the local heroin addicts, not our construction workers. The police officers lectured me for being so stupid. How did I not notice that none of them had hard hats or boots? I apologised and admitted I was an idiot. Fortunately they just left it at that and drove away. I could see all the workers on our job looking down from the scaffolding laughing at me. They had been watching me acting as a toilet attendant to junkies the whole day and thought it was hilarious.
Those first couple of weeks were fairly tough. I was working hard, training hard and sharing a dump of a tenement house with about twenty other Irish hurlers. Some nights you might have a bed but more often it was just a mattress on the floor. It was a rough existence. But then we played our first match and everything clicked into place.
As I have said the standard of hurling was very high. The Boston clubs had recruited some of the best young hurlers in Ireland that summer. The refereeing (or lack of it) didn’t make things any easier but I still managed to put in a strong performance and we won that first game. After the final whistle it was great craic in the dressing room and we then headed straight for the beer tent in Canton for a few cold ones. It’s a great set up. It’s all Irish ex pats having a drink and a laugh while watching the hurling and football games from back home. I was a bit homesick at times for those first couple of weeks but this first match and the celebrations following it settled me.
We ended up winning the final in Boston at the end of that summer. I remember being genuinely thrilled when the final whistle went. I was almost surprised at how passionate I had become for that Boston club. I suppose living with all those lads and being so close to them all summer as we worked hard, trained hard and played hard built a serious bond and that was reflected on the pitch. We really were a tight group. To win that championship title with all my great friends was as good a feeling as any title I had won in my career. The celebrations were wild, but unfortunately most of us were booked to fly home on the Wednesday after the game. I soaked up the celebrations, wishing that Wednesday would never arrive.
I was looking forward to seeing my family and friends but I was very sad to leave Boston. When it came time to leave I sat in the airport with a couple of the lads, staring out the window, reflecting on an unforgettable summer. We left Boston as broken men but also as men who lived the dream for three months. It was a summer that I will never forget. Friendships were forged that will last a lifetime. To throw twenty or so young Irish lads into a house might seem like a recipe for disaster but it worked. I also felt a better person coming out of it. In Boston there are no free rides; you have to earn it. I was going to take that attitude back home with me. Any bitterness I had felt towards my club or my county had evaporated by the time I returned to Ireland. I was back in love with hurling.