In JP Clarke’s Saloon on McLean Avenue, New York in 2013 Loughgiel native Eoghainin McCarry, Cushendall’s Brian McNaughton and Peter Hatzer from Cullaville, Co. Armagh first come up with the idea of forming Ulster Hurling NY and entering a team in the New York Championship. Brian had been involved with Offaly Hurling Club New York in the city since moving to the Big Apple back in at the turn of the Century, and when Eoghainin moved to the states in 2009, around the same time as Peter Hatzer they joined the Offaly team as well. All three were involved with Offaly and enjoying the hurling, but on the night in question the chat somehow came around about forming Ulster Hurling. The idea soon grew legs and they entered a team in the New York Junior Championship in 2013 and won it at the first time of asking. Eoghainin, who had been a member of the Loughgiel minor squad which won the Antrim and Ulster Minor titles in 2005, started at full-back that season but got injured in his first game and played the rest of the season in goal, Peter played at centre-back while Brian managed the team. The Cushendall man, who scored 1-1 after coming on as a sub in the 1999 Antrim final win against Dunloy, would have been on the team but there was a rule that new clubs starting up could only take two players from an existing club so he took over as manager. After winning the Junior title at their first attempt there was a bit of a dilemma for the club as it meant that they had to enter the senior championship the following season. Eoghainin told the Saffron Gael “We were mostly Junior hurlers so we thought it wouldn’t be right to give up on that team, so we entered a senior team as well in 2014 where were beaten by a goal in the semi-final”. They were beaten by a point by Tipperary Hurling Club New York in extra time in the 2015 final and again by them in 2016 when a point from the last puck of the game saw the Tipp men home once more.
Heartbreak for the Ulster men on three occasions but it was all stored up inside and on Sunday last August 6th they used it all as incentive as they reached the Holy Grail for the first time by beating Tipp by 3-17 to 1-14 in a thrilling game at Gaelic Park in the Bronx. With the demise of Club Offaly and Club Galway the championship was reduced to just these two fierce rivals and so it was decided to change the format to a ‘best of five’ series, something that may appear alien to GAA fans in this part of the world, but a format that is commonplace in American Sport in NBA and Baseball. Over the years the rule has been that teams were allowed to take out two ‘Weekenders’ for each championship game, but to reduce costs Ulster and Tipperary agreed to limit the use of weekenders to just two of the five games. Neither team brought anyone over for the first game, which Tipp won, but Ulster levelled the series the following weekend when they had two very special guests in the side, Kilkenny’s TJ Reid and Dublin’s Eamon Dillon. Tipp were not lacking in star quality either as TJ’s Kilkenny team mate Walter Walsh and Laois star Ross King were lining out in the blue & gold, but with Reid in fine form, and scoring 12 points, the Ulster men went on to win by 5-27 to 3-17.
In game three Ulster ran out winners by ten clear points and so Sunday last was to be a do or die game for Tipperary.
This is how Chris Clarke of the Irish Voice described the action
Leading by two games to one in this Best of Five Senior Hurling series Ulster looked to decisively nail the final blow into their rival’s coffin on Sunday at Gaelic Park. A rivaly born of years of facing off against each other, nurtured along by the current Senior Hurling format, these are two teams that do not like each other.
The series had been bloody and bruising, each challenge more cringeworthy than the last. Splintered hurleys knocking off shins as the small ball flies through the air. A great game brought to you literally by blood, sweat and tears. Down two games to one Tippeary had it all to do and their weekend addition of Peter Dougan provided immediate dividends as the Clare senior hurler hit 1-1 in the opening eight minutes. James Connolly, coming off another superb performance a week ago, answered for Ulster with two scores in four minutes. A game like this was always going to be tight with back and forth action as neither side looked likely to relinquish the battle, Connolly hit two more scores in the 12th and 17th minutes, while Billy O’Keefe and David Conroy kept Tipp ahead by one. Heading into the final five minutes of the half Connolly tied things up again with a free….0-7 to 1-4. Michael Sheedy got his second point of the half from right in front of the scoreboard, Paul Garbutt setting up the Tipperary player with some nifty “keep away” along the sideline, before Duggan hit the second point of the half from way out to give Tipp a two point advantage. At half time it was Ulster 0-7, Tipperary 1-6.
In a must win game, their backs up against the wall, Tipperary did just enough to go in at half time with a lead. Ulster were always going to come out of the locker room with the kitchen sink, and it came in the form of a Shane McNaughton goal three minutes in as he was set up beautifully by Lorcan McMullan. Tipp’s Weekenders Duggan and Shane O’Donnell went back to back to regain their side’s one point lead, at the 35 minute mark, it would be the last time Tipperary held the lead. Connolly first levelled the sides after a hard fought battle around the middle of the pitch. Danny Sutcliffe, who was quickly beginning to have his best game of the summer, shut down Tipperary’s uncoming advances from the sweeper position, and even tallied a wonderful point of his own as Ulster took a 1-9 to 1-8 lead.
McNaughton put over a free in the 42nd minute but put a real dagger through the heart of Tipp as he grabbed a goal a minute later. Conroy and Paul Loughnanne put over three frees heading into the final ten minutes of the game. Substitute Peter Hatzer made it 2-13 to 1-12 in the 53rd minute. Two minutes later Tipperary goalkeeper Eric Finn got in possession trying to do too much and McMullan put over the easy point to make it 2-14 to 1-13. Down by four with five minutes remaining a goal would have really seen a late scramble, but it never came for Tipp. Instead Sean Ryan stepped up for Ulster with three minutes to go to kill off any hopes for Tipperary. After Sutcliffe made sure with a last second score Ulster claimed the New York crown.
ULSTER HURLING NY – B McNaughton (Ruairi Og), D McCaul, R Walsh, T Coyle (Loughgiel Shamrocks), M Conlon, N Bolton, J.R. Kennedy, A Delargy (Ruairi Og), G McFetride (Glen Rovers, Armoy), P Deasy, D Sutcliffe, J Connolly (O’Donovan Rossa), S McNaughton (Ruairi Og), S Ryan, L McMullan. SUBS – P Hatzer, C Condon, J Power
Antrim men on Ulster team
The Irish Voice chose Danny Sutcliffe as man of the match after the game but those I spoke to who had attended Sunday’s final felt that the honour should have gone to James Connolly, and when you consider the Rossa man scored 13 points over the hour, few would argue. James was joined on the team by fellow Antrim men Tiernan Coyle of Loughgiel Shamrocks, Gerard McFetridge of Armoy (a nephew of the great Clute) plus Alex Delargy and Shane McNaughton of Ruairi Og Cushendall. Shane’s hurling career appeared to be over after moving to New York to pursue and acting career, but when his namesake and former Cushendall clubmate Brian McNaughton heard he was in town he soon signed him up. The two of them had played together in the city for Offaly a few years earlier. Shane played a major role in Sunday’s win, scoring 2-1, the second goal described by Eoghainin McCarry as the best goal he ever seen in Gaelic Park.