Aidan Browne, Boston's "Go-To Guy" for Irish hurling games at Fenway Park, was chairman of last year's Boston Irish Honors luncheon.
BY TYLER MCMANUS
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Aidan Browne, a partner at the Sullivan & Worcester law firm, is a “go-to” person with vast experience representing US and Irish companies. So when he received a call in 2015 from Fionnuala Quinlan, the Consul General of Ireland in Boston, it was not an unusual event.
“Aidan, I have some people from Dublin in town,” she said. “It’s the founder and CEO of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) and one of his colleagues. Would you mind meeting them?”
Browne had never heard of the GPA and he was hesitant at first. A Dublin native, he is a devoted fan of the annual All-Ireland Gaelic football and hurling (the women’s version is called camogie) championships. But his only playing experience was in a youth parish league for St. John Bosco School.
However, after the consul general mentioned that the CEO of the GPA was Dessie Farrell, the captain of the 1995 All-Ireland Champion Dublin Gaelic football team, Browne agreed to meet with him and his colleague.
“I sat with down with Dessie, and as he explained to me what he was doing, what his philosophy and ambitions were for the GPA, in 10 minutes I got it, and I was hook, line, and sinker,” Browne told the BIR. “What I saw in Dessie was amazing passion, incredible knowledge, tremendous empathy for the players and the players’ situation, which gave rise to the establishment of the GPA because the GAA, the overarching body, was not focused on the needs of the players.”
The GPA was looking to bring a new format of hurling called Super 11s to the US. Dessie had met up with former Dartmouth College and NBA basketball player Walter Palmer, who had finished his playing career in Europe. While over there, Palmer established the Basketball Players Association of Europe for professional players.
“Walter’s whole focus has always been around the players in all sports,” Browne said. “He went on to become president of the World Association of Player Associations, so he’s got an amazing amount of experience, knowledge, and understanding of what the needs of the players are.”
Palmer agreed to become a consultant to the GPA. Not long afterward, he suggested staging the Super 11s at Fenway Park and his connection with Red Sox president Sam Kennedy (both Kennedy’s and Palmer’s fathers were ministers at churches in Back Bay) led to the 2015 AIG Fenway Hurling Classic match between Dublin and Galway, which was a huge success, posting the highest TV ratings for a sport other than baseball at Fenway Park. Fenway and AIG’s eagerness to see hurling return to Boston led to plans for the recently held 2017 AIG Fenway Hurling Classic on Nov. 19, under a similar Super 11s format.
The scoring in the three matches was supplied by goals worth either three points or five points, depending on from where they were scored. Galway, the defending All-Ireland champions, defeated Dublin, 55-39, in the first semi-final, then Clare topped Tipperary, 50-45, in the second semi-final. Clare went on to stun Galway, 50-33, in the final to win the inaugural Players Champions Cup.
“I think what you experienced is just how palpable the competition is between counties,” Browne said. “If they were playing that match on the moon, they’d still be ferociously pursuing the win and the success. And you saw it in every aspect of the game... [Clare] practiced the format for over six months. They really applied themselves to understanding this new format...So I think the teams took each of these games extremely seriously, and they wanted the pride of winning overseas, the pride of winning in Boston, the pride of winning the inaugural Players Champions Cup.”
Aside from competing for the cup and bragging rights, the GPA had long hoped to increase the appreciation of hurling and heighten the status of its players. The two Fenway events have done just that.
“They’ve already got high status in Ireland, but to be viewed and understood in these different markets is very, very valuable,” Browne said. “The GPA is about supporting these players. Its role is not to get into the business of making money out of these games for the sake of making money. It’s about raising the profile. When revenue accrues from these events, that goes to the players.”
Established in 2016, the Boston Friends of the GPA engages in support activities for the GPA and aims to increase the profile of Gaelic games in the US, with its feature event being its annual dinner. Last year’s dinner— the inaugural one in Boston— drew more than 400 guests and was a huge success. The 2018 dinner will be held on Fri., April 8, at the Intercontinental Hotel in Boston.
Browne hopes to see the Hurling Classic expand to cities like New York and Chicago, which, like Boston, have large Irish and Irish American populations that would be represented by the participating counties. “If you did the same series of three games, you could have Mayo, Kerry, Dublin, and maybe Donegal,” he said. “Each of those counties are very, very significantly represented here in the expat community and also in the Irish American community. I think it would have great appeal…What’s complicated about putting these on is the very limited window of opportunity we have because of the season that the players have. There’s a total of about three weeks in November that you’ve got to get this tournament in…It’s always a challenge to figure out availability and who can actually come.”
For more information on the Boston Friends of the GPA dinner in April, contact Natalie Metz at 617-723-2707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.