Around the World in 80 Clubs – Houston Gaels, Texas, USA (#40)
The second occasion the famous Houston Gaels have graced these pages.
Size is a pretty relative concept when it comes to the state of Texas in the United States.
Houston Gaels, for example, are the only GAA club in the fourth most populated city in the US and while that’s something to shout about, it’s a little hard to be heard in a city with a population of over two million people.
A pretty big parish, as Houston Gaels PRO Chris Bohill puts it.
Furthermore, given the distance between the major cities in the Lone Star State, Houston Gaels have to undergo round trips of between 320 and 480 miles when playing away at Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, quite the spin even for the most committed of GAA players.
There’s been plenty of commitment at the club ever since their foundation in 2011 and plenty of high points too, not least when they got to play at the BBVA Compass stadium, home of Houston Dynamo, shortly after the hosts had thrashed an LA Galaxy side featuring Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard by three goals to zip.
They even got on TV too… even if it was (kind of) by accident.
When we were in touch with Chris recently, he was happy to shed some light on some of the people that make the club tick, including an active US marine who couldn’t quite handle the sesh in New Orleans.
Focus on Houston Gaels
Club: Houston Gaels
Year established: 2011
Number of members: Approximately 80 across two men’s teams and a ladies team.
Biggest rivals: The other clubs in the Texas Championship; Austin (160 miles away), Dallas (240 miles away) and San Antonio (190 miles away). We’re easily the biggest ‘county’ in GAA!
Nothing like a 480-mile round trip in one day to play in Dallas. You definitely lose your sense of distance playing football in Texas.
Biggest representation from a club/county in Ireland: I think Cork has it won, closely followed by Mayo and Down and a couple of Tipp lads too.
Most famous ever member: Currently we’re a football-only club, which means we’ve a few frustrated small ball players in our team. Gerry McNamara, club captain in 2014, was on the Clare senior hurling panel before moving Stateside.
We’ve also a few older lads who claim to have played minor football (Down and Mayo). Since this was before the Internet was invented, we’re unable to verify!
This year, we had Dublin forward Paul Flynn over for our end of year awards. We almost had him tricked into signing a completed transfer form!
Most memorable moment in the club’s history: Probably our first appearance at the North American County Board nationals in 2013. We took a fairly light squad of 15 players to Cleveland (we play 13-a-side in the US) and won our first two games, beating Seattle and Charlotte.
We were five points down against Charlotte with three minutes to go and Mayo man Mike Murphy scored two goals to win it by a point.
We’ve also been fortunate to play two exhibition games at Dynamo Stadium, home of Houston’s MLS soccer team. We even got a write-up on JOE!
Most eye-catching scoreline in the club’s history: Unfortunately, we’ve been on the receiving end of a few eye-catching scorelines, the worst being a tough battle against New Orleans, but we are still a young club and the development of the local players is core to our mission.
Many of the Irish lads and ladies are here due to the oil and gas industry so they can be moved around the globe at a minute’s notice. Without a strong core of American-born players, both on and off the field, the club won’t grow and flourish.
Player who makes the longest commute to training: There’s a clear winner for this one. It’s Galway man David Flanagan, who makes a 190-mile round trip twice a week for training. David lives up in College Station (home of Texas A&M) but still makes it down for training each week.
Most dedicated club person: We’ve no shortage of dedicated players in Houston. Who else would show up to train on a Saturday morning in July when it’s already 35 degrees by 9am?
Clubmen Mike Murphy (Mayo), Chris Bohill (Down) and Philly Larkin (Tipp) have been committee members and players since the club’s inception and local enthusiasm from Americans Johnny Ziomek and Amber Murphy have ensured that the club continues to grow from strength to strength.
Player who could have made it big if love/career/drink didn’t get in the way: This has to be Mick Coady, a natural athlete and fierce competitor. You get a different story on the career that could have been depending on the day you meet him. He is good craic and a legend of a story teller!
Biggest character: I think the general consensus in the club would be west Cork man (can’t forget the west bit!) and current Chairman, Paul Deane.
It’s generally believed that rather than six degrees of separation, Paul is a maximum of two degrees of separation from every person in Ireland. Every year, one of the lads is back home and runs into someone who knows Paul, regardless of where in Ireland they are.
Loudest in the dressing room: We’ve had a few US Marines in our squad over the years and it’s fair to say that they’re not shy about getting their feelings across in both the dressing room and on the field.
When it comes to the long bus rides home after away games, American Sam Doran (of good Co. Down stock) is by far our most vocal singer of songs. He has a DRAMATIC, EXCITING voice and there isn’t a Clancy brothers’ song that the man can’t sing by heart.
Number of romances that started in the GAA club (feel free to name names): We’ve yet to get a good romance blossom within the club, but we do have some existing couples who are involved in both teams.
One of the club’s founders, Johnny Ziomek, is now engaged to Kelly Gaetano, one of the ladies from the Austin GAA team. He managed to convince her to move to Houston and there’s even a rumour she signed the club transfer papers before the ring was produced.
Duck to water award – Best new player who had never played GAA before: We’ve been really impressed by several of the young American guys in the club.
Most played American Football or Basketball so they are quite athletic with great handling skills. I think we’ll really benefit from them with the introduction of the mark this year.
Adam Robertson was the captain of the intermediate team last year and he immediately understood the importance of representing the parish; he definitely deserves a mention for a guy who had never even seen the game before turning up to play.
Most annoying person in the club WhatsApp group: There’s not really anyone too annoying in the various club chat groups.
We’ve a couple who enjoy a good whine and moan and things definitely escalate when we get into All-Ireland season. The Tipp lads get it pretty bad from their Munster neighbours. Scott Calili definitely gets the award for most avid liker of all Facebook posts though!
Best story involving a club member that’s fit for print: Well, there was the infamous trip to play New Orleans in 2013. It was New Orleans’ first ever football game, but, as it turns out, they have a not so secret weapon called ‘Bourbon Street’.
Most of our guys rolled in from the pubs at 5am for a midday throw-in. Needless to say, that game didn’t end well for us. Several weren’t able to keep their breakfast in the stomach during the warm-up and I don’t think we’ll ever lose the image of an active US Marine crawling off the field on all fours, vomiting.
The game ended 5-4 to 4-3 to the home team, a pretty horrific spectacle for the GAA fans in New Orleans. New Orleans haven’t played a game since!
Still though, ‘twas a savage session!