By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Treasa Goodwin arrived in New York from Cobh in the 1980s and quickly gravitated towards Young Ireland’s Camogie Club.
She was playing one day when suffering a blow to the head that left her bleeding and needing treatment. A man she didn’t know came out onto the pitch to attend to her, and went to the hospital with her afterwards.
In time, Treasa Goodwin became Treasa Goodwin-Smyth, after she married the Louth-born legendary ESPN soccer commentator and analyst Tommy, who had shown such concern for a stranger.
She wouldn’t be the first to have met a future life partner in Gaelic Park, though perhaps not quite in such circumstances.
Camogie has been in New York since the formation of Young Ireland’s in 1960.
“After that, they started in Brooklyn and came up to Central Park to train. Then we came up here to Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx” recalls Goodwin-Smyth.
“There were a group of about 10 women – Kathleen McDonagh and Bridie Gregory among them. I took over from Kathleen and was Young Ireland’s President for around 12 years.
“There was a North American League at that time. There were teams in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco among others.
“Camogie was always strong in New York. We had two nights a week training at Van Cortlandt Park. We won the North American League many times. We had great players from all over Ireland that came here.
“This little one here came over and she took over then from us.”
Goodwin-Smyth is nodding towards the indefatigable Ger Lavery, who played herself but recognised the need for a steadier stream of players rather than relying on the very transient nature of emigration.
“I came to the States in ’96 and was playing away but in 2007 we decided to come together and start the underage Camogie. At that point, it was very important. There was no Senior Camogie in New York” Lavery explains.
“But the truth of the matter is that the future is with our youth so we got a few players together along with the young hurlers and we trained them for about two years or so. Then in 2010, the New York Minor Board agreed to support us getting some clubs together.”
In 2010, four teams competed in the Continental Youth Championships for the first time – New Haven, St Brigid’s (The Bronx), Shannon Gaels (Queens) and Rockland.
“Since then it has taken off” says Lavery. “Two years ago, the girls we had started with were around 16 so we started the New York development squad and really and truly, the standard is absolutely phenomenal.
“It’s pretty impressive given that these children don’t grow up with Camogie. They’re not going home at night with their hurley and sliotar. They’ve got baseball, softball, there’s so many othersports here, and to see just how well they’ve honed their skills, and their love and passion was absolutely remarkable.
“I’ve got my own daughters and I wanted them to play Camogie, so to do that, I had to start it! That was the bottom line, we had like-minded people who worked very hard to do that. So the girls that started are still playing, involved in that development squad now, which shows the passion.
“New York started a Junior League two years ago so now we’ve got three local teams that are 16 years old and over. Aisling Daly started another team called Annie Moores. There are young Americans at 25 years old picking up a hurl! It’s absolutely phenomenal, and they went out and won the North Americans in the summer, with no Irish girls on that team.”
That is tremendously satisfying for the pioneers and those working on the ground. So too, was having the best Camogie players in the world turning up to Gaelic Park on Saturday night for an exhibition match as part of the Liberty Insurance Camogie All-Stars Tour.
“Christmas, New Year’s and birthday together!” exclaims Goodwin-Smyth when asked what it means.
“It’s phenomenal” says Ger. “I met with (Camogie Association President) Kathleen Woods two years ago and laid it on the table that if we wanted to continue and have our programme survive here, we needed support from the Camogie Association in Ireland and they stepped up. And this weekend is a credit to them.
“Last night we had a referees’ course, which was so important. Niall Williams has been doing two days of coaching. It’s phenomenal and is so much appreciated.
“I think going forward from this weekend, for our youngsters to see these girls coming out to play here, to see the standard and how amazing they are, will hopefully inspire them.”
“It is fantastic for the young girls to see them, especially the American girls that never get that opportunity to see women playing Camogie at that level” Goodwin-Smyth agrees. “To have the young girls coming from the different clubs as flagbearers for the exhibition game, it is absolutely fantastic.
“I would really like to thank the players for coming out and for the Camogie Association for supporting that. Because we need that.”