When the Denver Gaels first competed in the North American championships in 1996, the lone Men’s Football team was just happy to be representing the Mile High City. Just 15 years later, the Gaels were the largest club en force at the Championships. Forty-seven players representing five different teams competed in the Championships at Páirc Na nGael in San Francisco. Unlike the club founders the players from Denver weren’t just happy to compete, they had their sights set on bringing home some silverware.
The tournament started out very brightly for the Denver Gaels, with the Junior C Men’s Hurling team taking on long heated rivals Seattle. Denver came out of the gates firing, finding dual star Adam Kiefert up front, who quickly turned his man and fired a shot at goal. The Seattle keeper had a nice reaction save, but he couldn’t recover the rebound shot from Adrian Stalbaum giving Denver an early lead that it would never relinquish. Denver’s captains Matt Santambrogio and John O’Neill lead the Gaels backline in a stellar performance that held Seattle to just 3 points. The Gaels continued the scoring thanks to tenacious play of Farris McManus, Mike Prince, and Stephen Pinsonneault. Their pressure earned frees throughout the game, which Adrian coolly put over the bar to extend the lead. In the end the Gaels won comfortably 1-11 to 0-3, a great result for the squad of American hurlers.
The victory earned the Junior C squad a matchup against St. Louis in the quarterfinals just three hours later. St. Louis and Denver also had a hurling history as it was this same St. Louis squad that Denver beat in 2007 to progress it’s top squad to Junior B. The young C Hurlers came out with energy but ultimately could not fight toe to toe with the quality of the St. Louis. The Gaels battled hard, and found some bright performances from Kyle Dunne, Cormac McGann and Jay Bagwell who tallied the lone Gaels goal in the contest against the eventual champions of the C division, St. Louis.
The Junior B Hurlers began their quest for a championship against the same Twin Cities squad that they defeated in last years semifinals. Gaels manager Alan Murphy warned the squad “They’ve spent the entire year thinking about what we did to them in the semi’s last year, and you know they’re chomping at a bit for a chance at another shot at us!” The Gaels took the words to heart and applied the pressure early. Veteran hurlers Ciaran Dwyer and Vinny Commeford combined for some early scores and soon after the All-American half forward line got into the action with scores coming from Pat Ream and Bobby Canaly. The game broke open soon after when the Twin Cities keeper let in a couple soft scores. The Gaels rode the early lead to a comprehensive victory 6-5 to 1-6.
In the semi-finals the Gaels faced Indianapolis. From the throw in defensive pressure dictated the pace of the game. Both teams struggled to maintain possession and get score in the opening minutes with half-chances flying well wide. Again it was Vinny Commeford who settled the nerves of the Denver side, as the Waterford native began to take control of the midfield and nailed three long-range points from the run of play. His charge inspired Bobby Canaly and Pat Ream once again who each got scores from the half-forward line. Indy clawed its way back into the contest earning several frees in Denver’s half. Indy made Denver pay for every free given with a free taker who possessed deadeye aim from anywhere within 65 meters. With Indy gaining momentum, full-forward stalwart, Ciaran Dwyer stepped up in the moment and delivered a huge goal giving Denver a one point lead headed into the second half 1-5 to 0-7.
The second half, started out much like the first with both teams battling for an offensive rhythm. The Denver backs kept Indy at bay for much of the contest, lead by tenacious fight of captain Brian Togher and keeper Bingo Byrne. The sides traded a few scores from frees giving Denver a two point lead with about fifteen minutes left in the contest. Sensing the urgency, Indy began to mount more pressure on the Denver goal area. Using fierce ground hurling; Indy slipped a rebound past Denver keeper Bingo Byrne. Indy rode their momentum, and put away their second goal within 5 minutes. Down four, Denver was rattled but not defeated. Vinny Commeford got one score from play, and another from a free-in to draw the game to within two points with five minutes left to play. In a move of desperation, the Gaels put in manager Alan Murphy into goal, and pushed Bingo into the forward line. The move paid off, with Brian Togher taking a nice cross-field pass from Pat Ream and put the ball over the bar to draw the game within one. With three minutes left, Denver earned a free 45 meters out from the Indy goal. Vinny stepped up and as he had all weekend he put the ball over the bar to tie the match. The Denver sideline erupted urging the team forward for one last push. Unfortunately, Indy had other plans in mind as they placed another ball in front of the Denver net and slotted a late goal past the Gaels defense. With just extra time left in the contest Denver had already expended all the energy it had in the tank. Indy put away one more free-in to cap off the cracking match 3-11 to 1-13. Although bitterly disappointed, the Gaels Hurlers kept their heads high. In the huddle Ciaran Dwyer reflected, “That was a battle between two teams of men. You know sometimes you don’t get the breaks, but we can be proud of how we played out there.”
The Gaels men’s football squad was coming off a promising finish as shield winners of last year’s Junior C Football competition. Captains Brian McCarthy and Adam Kiefert had put extra emphasis on recruiting and development and brought a strong team with four new American players featuring in the starting lineup. The Gaels received a bye to the semifinals where they played last year’s Junior D division champions Baltimore Bohemians. The Gaels back line were challenged early in the contest by a very skilled Baltimore forward line who were moving the ball all around the Denver half for scores and frees. Denver’s nerves settled down once Adam Kiefert received the ball 25 meters out and drove at goal finding an open Ross Doonan for an early goal to level the score. A second goal came just five minutes later for the Gaels when first year player Adam Johnson initiated a great combination with Ross, who played it to Rònàn O’Màitiu for the goal. The Gaels only held onto the lead briefly as a fight for a loose ball in the box lead to a penalty for Baltimore who converted to take the lead. The half ended with Baltimore leading 1-8 to 2-1. Determined to stop leaking points, the Gaels adjusted its defense and brought on some additional firepower to make a push in the second half. But Baltimore kept putting on the pressure, and always seemed to find an open man thanks to the hard running of their halfbacks into the Denver half. Only a great reaction toe save from Bingo saved Denver from going down two goals. Late in the second half Denver seemed to benefit from the altitude and began to mount a comeback with scores from Seamus Blaney, Kieran Lynn, and Rònàn to bring the Gaels within three points. In the last five minutes the Gaels had three good chances at goal to tie the match, but could not convert before the whistle blew as Denver fell to Baltimore 2-6 to 1-12.
The weekend was not over for the men’s Footballers who found themselves in a shield contest against Charlotte. Short a few players battling back from Injury the Gaels looked to the panel to get the job done. It was another cracking contest for the footballers who received stellar performances from the midfield duo of Rory McGarry and Adam Johnson. Rory lead the way in scoring getting several points from the run of play as well as a couple frees to push the Gaels forward. The Gaels also received stellar performances from ageless veterans Martin Concannon in the full forward line, and Shay Dunne in the back line who was relentless in breaking up the Charlotte attack. To their credit Charlotte hung in the whole way and kept it close on a steady diet of points and frees. Late into the second half the two sides exchanged goals and points to take the contest to overtime. With five minutes added onto the contest the Gaels got a great score from Adam Johnson who split the uprights on a 40-meter kick from his right boot. The Gaels held onto the lead for four minutes before conceding a point on a free. Denver determined to go home with a win, kept the pressure up and Adam Kiefert drove at goal, hit the post but then followed through to see the ball into the net for the deciding score. The Denver Footballers again took the shield 3-8 to 2-8.
Although the Men’s squads didn’t take home the silverware they set out to earn, every one of their voices could be heard cheering at the Ladies Camogie Final. There a combined team representing Denver and Twin Cities made history by winning the Junior A Camogie Championship in an epic extra time victory (read their story on page…). At the final whistle all forty-seven players, family members, and friends, flooded the field to congratulate the ladies on their tremendous accomplishment. In her speech captain Kyle Shane proclaimed, “This cup belongs to our entire club; our men’s teams for training with us, our managers for coaching us, and our friends and families for supporting us! We are all a part of this club, and deserve to celebrate this cup!” And in true Denver Gaels fashion, celebrate we did!
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