Lakewood Looms Large In Plans For Championship Gaelic Football Team

via The Lakewood Observer

By: Brian Royer

Gaelic football is a centuries old Irish ball game played by teams of 15—or 13 in the United States—on a field very similar to a soccer field. The objective is to pass the ball into the other team’s goal for three points, or through a set of two uprights for one point. It’s been played in the greater Cleveland area for nearly a century, and during that time teams from the Forest City have been good. Very good.

Today, Cleveland St. Pat’s-St. Jarlath’s Gaelic Football Club, a team formed after Cleveland St. Pat’s and Cleveland St. Jarlath’s merged, is the country’s defending national champion, but this year the pressure is on and the stakes are high. They are under the microscope, and they know it. Every club in their division, which includes teams from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, and more than forty other teams from throughout the United States are watching every move they make. As they prepare to kick off the 2016 season, Head Coach Martin Wall knows that Lakewood is going to be a big part of their title defense.

“This year is certainly going to be different,” said Wall. “We can see how other clubs are filling out their roster and the moves they are making. Make no mistake about it, they’re coming for us. It’s not a time to get fancy, we’re keeping it simple. We’re going to work on our fitness and be bigger, faster, and stronger than we were last year, and we’re going to recruit athletes who want to compete. Lakewood is going to be a big part of that.”

The first stop for the men of Cleveland St. Pat’s-St. Jarlath’s will be Birdtown Crossfit, a local gym that focuses on strength and conditioning. As Wall tells it, the team’s competitiveness began to turn the corner at the end of the 2013 season. The team’s skill level was improving to be sure, but the biggest difference was their overall endurance, strength, and durability. He asked around and found that a number of his players had been participating in regular workouts at Birdtown. Always quick to take advantage of a good opportunity, Wall and the club’s board of directors worked with Birdtown Crossfit’s owners Tricia Tortoreti and Jillian Neimeister to develop a customized six-week pre-season strength and conditioning program for his players that will begin in March.

“As far as the results of Birdtown workouts,” said Wall. “I’ve seen them myself, so there’s no question there. I can say from firsthand experience that their programming has improved some of our players, even extended some of their playing careers. They know what they are doing.”

Next up, according to Wall, the team needs to recruit new athletes who are interested in learning a new, fast-paced, competitive game. Gaelic football is like any other sport — if you aren’t moving forward, if you aren’t building for the future, you’re moving backward. In many ways, new player recruitment is always the hardest part of the plan. Most athletes simply don’t know or understand the game of Gaelic football, so it can be a bit daunting. Fortunately for the team, that is an easy bridge to cross in Lakewood. Considering the number of players who call the city home, most folks have probably run into more than a few around town, or at least shared a pint with one of them.

Mid-fielder Chris Weimar, half-forwards Kyle McIntyre and Nick Cobos, and full-forward Rory O’Neil all call Lakewood home, and long-time player and starting center half-forward, Kevin Pap, is the owner and operator of Plank Road Tavern.

“Yeah, if you’re in Lakewood, St. Pat’s-St. Jarlath’s guys are not hard to find,” said Cobos. “We’re kind of all over. If you can’t find one of us, just head up to Plank. Get yourself something to eat, have a pint. One of us will be there soon enough. Best joint in town.”

This type of neighborhood retail recruiting—where new players are brought in by old players they know from the neighborhood—is a bit untraditional.  For St. Pat’s-St. Jarlath’ though, it’s key to their success.

“In a lot of ways we’re a small-market team,” said Cobos. “When you look at cities like Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, you’re talking about clubs with hundreds of players backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars. In that regard, it’s impossible for us to keep up with them. They can afford to do whatever they want. But look at the past ten years. Cleveland has four national championships. Can they keep up with us on the field?”

The results are hard to dispute, but the club knows how intimidating a new game can be to potential players. According to Cobos, that shouldn’t stop them from trying. “Here’s what I tell guys, everybody has a first day. All of us. But when you boil it down, it’s a simple game. Run. Catch. Kick. If you’re an athlete of any sort, you’ll pick it up quickly,” he said. “If anything you’re going to have a great time, and you get to hang out with great guys. It’s not the worst way to spend a summer.”

If you are interested in learning more about Gaelic football or Cleveland St. Pat’s-St. Jarlath’s GFC, you can find them on Facebook at /stpatsgfc, follow them on Twitter @clevelandgaelic, or head up to Plank Road Tavern at 16719 Detroit—somebody will be there soon enough.