By Nate Bazydlo Setanta
San Diego Gaelic Football and Surf Club wins North American Championship for second year in a row
“To win the second championship is infinitely harder than the first.” — Magic Johnson. Fending off angry competition, keeping satiated players hungry, and maintaining laser-like focus in the midst of fanfare all mount in opposition to the conquest for a back-to-back championship. In the face of substantial obstacles, the men of San Diego Setanta Gaelic Football Club entered the 2018 campaign with their sights set high on the Junior A North American Cup.
Last year, San Diego went to San Francisco and ended a seven-year drought with a heroic finals victory to capture the Junior B North American Cup. Winning in the highly competitive Junior B division resulted in mandatory promotion to the top level, Junior A division, for this year’s North American Championship held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Although the North American Championship can trace its origins back to 1949 when the first competitive games were held between cities, the history of Gaelic games in the U.S. has a much deeper history. There are records of established Gaelic football in Philadelphia as far back as 1914.
The storied past and today’s growing popularity carry teams from all over North America as far south as the Cayman Islands to as far north as Calgary, Canada to compete in the championship weekend.
The club began its training in early spring of 2018 with the loss of key players — including Irish lads returning home as well as American-born players attending to life outside of football. These personnel losses, in combination with the addition of new players, left club management led by Neil Morrison with the daunting task of coalescing this talented squad into a cohesive championship unit.
The season kicked off with the iconic West Coast 7’s tournament hosted here in San Diego annually on Memorial Day weekend. Setanta drew from their championship pedigree to hoist the 2018 West Coast 7’s cup in a hard-fought tournament. The stage was set for another grueling ascent to the top of Gaelic football’s North American “Mount Everest.”
“If you train hard, you will not only be hard, but you will be hard to beat.” — Thomas Cinco. This club, comprised of chiseled-bodied young men of both Irish and American origin, trained tirelessly for the next six months with their sights set on Philadelphia.
Setanta made the cross-country trek for the championship weekend fortified with 45 players, four coaches, and a top-notch physiotherapist. This is the 13th straight year San Diego has traveled with two teams to nationals. Of note, the founding member, and still-starting player for the Junior C team, Conor ‘Red’ Smith has played in 19 nationals, which is a U.S. record.
The Junior C team faithfully bowed out of the tournament in the first round to focus all efforts on the repeat championship for the Junior A team. The A team was stacked with talent from legendary veterans Peter Quinlian, Mark Hegarty and Phelim O’Connor to current stars Jimmy and Jonny, Podge O’Connor, and Martin Clarke to name just a few.
There has been a real cultivation of collective support and cohesion from the bottom to the top of the club led by the club guru, Boru, and exemplified by Podge O’Connor. Each player admirably put team before themself in dedication to the ultimate goal.
With a rainy finals underway in Philadelphia for the Junior A team, any fear of a championship malaise was quickly squashed with one of the largest nationals defeat on record being handed to host-city Philadelphia in the semi-finals match. San Diego was left with one more hurdle to the cup facing off against a storied Boston club in the finals.
From the start of the finals match, Setanta didn’t miss a beat. A treat for any fan to witness, on display was the utmost deftly executed, aesthetically pleasing and deadly team football as San Diego sailed past Boston to reign supreme as the 2018 North American Junior A Gaelic football champions!
It would be incomplete to highlight the accomplishments of this San Diego-based club in 2018 without making mention of the unique character in its make up. The action does not stop off the field. The Setanta Gaelic Football and Surf Club epitomizes the values of cultural exchange, athletic competition and community service in San Diego. The Men’s Gaelic football team joins forces with Irish Outreach San Diego and the greater San Diego Gaelic Athletic Association to host its annual flagship event “Irish You a Merry Christmas.” This event serves local school children in need along with their families a gourmet meal with authentic Irish music and dance; all while Irish Santa humbly arrives with loads of gifts.
This year in particular showcased the real value of athletics as a mechanism to draw out the best in people, not only on the field but also off. In a time when division in our society is glanced at as casually as the soup du jour, this team came together bridging gaps in generation, income, political preference, and background to create, more importantly than a championship unit, a positive culture. A family! Now the club speaks of legacy in the midst of current successes. Setanta has secured the 2018 North American Championship with overwhelming talent on the field and a culture of compassion and excellence off.
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