The National Collegiate Gaelic Athletic Association (NCGAA) has announced that the 2015 national collegiate hurling championship tournament will be hosted at the University of Montana.
The announcement comes three months after the hugely successful 2014 tournament that was hosted by the New York GAA at Woodlawn and Gaelic Park in May, an event that was contested by seven hurling teams and five football teams in the first appearance of Gaelic football at the now four year-old competition. Iona College made history by becoming the first national collegiate Gaelic football champions. Since all of the collegiate football clubs are still concentrated in the Northeast region, the NCGAA has opted to split the 2015 national tournament between hurling and football and host them in two separate locations on different weekends. The format of the football competition which will be hosted in the Northeast will be determined by the regional committee.
Brian Barry, spokesman for the Montana Grizzlies Hurling Club, the current NCGAA national hurling champions, welcomed the decision. “This is going to help us build even more on what we’ve started here,” he said. “About six hundred people showed up to watch the first ever hurling match played in state history in Grizzlies Stadium earlier this year. Our story has been all over the local news and on television. We’re confident that we can get thousands of people into this 25,000 capacity facility next year to witness our defense of our national championship title.”
Eamonn Gormley, NCGAA Chairman, said that while other locations have their strengths, Montana is the right place to host the even in 2015. “This is new territory for the GAA in America,” he said. “While it’s important that we maintain our presence in existing locations, it’s just as important that we break new ground. Kids in Montana have been inspired by what they have seen on the local TV news, and there are reports of children spontaneously playing hurling on the street with improvised hurleys fashioned from tennis racquets and hockey sticks. We have got to jump all over that and help the Grizzlies to get the sport established in the local area while the opportunity exists.”
The Grizzlies have been getting calls from local schools asking how they can get hurling going. The local club has begun an outreach effort aimed at starting a youth program and getting startup spinoff clubs established in the region. There is no top flight professional sports franchise in the state of Montana, therefore the fortunes of the collegiate NCAA teams commands huge attention in the community.
Top level collegiate sports are a massive industry in the United States, their popularity on a par with that of professional leagues with attendances of 100,000 not unheard of and live television broadcasting rights sold for millions of dollars. The NCGAA, founded in 2009, aims to tap into the brand recognition of collegiate teams and to aid the process of getting hurling and Gaelic football further into the mainstream.
The 2015 NCGAA national hurling tournament will be hosted over the Memorial Day weekend, May 23 and 24.