For the first time in the 100 year history of the Gaelic Athletic Association in New York, a Donegal man holds the top position of President.
That man is Laurence McGrath from Pettigo. Laurence, at 45, also holds the distinction of being the youngest holder of the high office at Gaelic Park.
He was elected unopposed to the post at the end of November after serving as Vice-President of the board for the previous three years.
Steeped in GAA tradition, Laurence, by birthright, was always destined to a life time commitment to the GAA. His late father Tony McGrath - who sadly passed away 25 years ago - was a stalwart of the GAA in Pettigo.
“Ours was a GAA house and I am from a big GAA family. My late dad Tony was a dyed in the wool GAA man and was a big man in the Pettigo club and was one of the men that kept the GAA flag flying in the club for the best part of 50 years,” explained Laurence, who returned to New York earlier this week, where he runs a very successful construction company.
He spent the Christmas at home in Pettigo with his mother Molly, also a staunch supporter of the GAA.
“It is a great honour for me and my family and for the Donegal GAA club in New York and I am looking forward to the job and the challenges it presents.”
The presidency is for a three year term but Laurence must go before the annual general meeting for re-election each year.
But given that the popular Donegal man was unopposed for the position, something that is a rare occurrence, it is highly unlikely that he will face any challenges over the next two years.
The next three years promise to be hectic for the energetic Laurence who also fronts a construction company that employs up to 20 full-time staff.
“The Association in New York is 100 years old this year and big celebrations are planned to mark the occasion.
“We also hope to begin construction of our new pavilion and facilities at Gaelic Park. It is at the planning stage at the moment but we hope to begin work on the project in March.
“It is a huge project and entails demolishing the existing building and replacing it with a with a state of the art building. The estimated cost of the whole project is in the region of $8 million dollars.
“It is a big undertaking and it is going to take up a good deal of my time. But most of the preparation work is done and it is now a matter of getting on with the development.
“The plan is to complete the project in a year and have it ready for the summer of 2016.”
Another big event on the New York calendar is the visit of Cavan in the Spring and Galway, in the Connacht championship, at the start of May.
“Cavan are coming out to play the New York seniors in two challenge games in April. The manager, Ian Galvin, is using the games as warm-up games for the Connacht championship game against Galway on the first weekend in May.
“Ian has already begun his preparations and has a good bit of work done with the squad.
“We have a good team and a number of very good footballer have emigrated to the city in the last couple of years.
“The GAA is pretty strong in New York at present. Between football and hurling we have 33 adult teams competing at senior, intermediate and junior level. We have 30 clubs.
“A lot of the young men emigrating from Ireland in recent years are all College graduates and are out on three year work visas.
“Under the scheme a graduate can get a company to sponsor them for the three years. These lads are all highly qualified and are in very good jobs and doing well for themselves. They have been a big boost to the GAA in the city and our club competitions. The standard has improved as a consequence and as a result the quality of player available to play for New York.”
Underage football and the development of the game in the City That Never Sleeps has also made giant strides forward in the last decade or so.
“We also have a very good underage structure which has been up and running for the best part of the last 12 years.
“We had a very good U-14 team last year (2014). They did very well in National Feile final in Mayo. They won their group beating Castlebar and Ballina Stephenites from Mayo and Dublin champions, Ballyboden St Enda’s before losing to eventual outright winners, Naas, in the quarter-final.
“They were a very good team. My own son, Anthony, was on the team and we were very pleased with how they did and we received great compliments from people like Martin McHugh that watched them playing.
“They did very well considering that they were playing at the highest level in Division One. We hope to build on that success now and bring them through to minor and eventually senior level.”
Laurence himself played at all age levels right up to junior Division Four league before emigrating to New York in 1987, at the age of 18.
And one of the treasured trophies in his trophy cabinet is a Division Four Donegal Shield medal from 1984. Just 15 at the time, Laurence was a sub on the Pettigo team that defeated Dungloe in the final, in a replay in Fintra -a Dungloe team that included the writer, though I missed the replay through illness.
He joined Donegal New York on hitting the Big Apple and played for the club for a number of years. His greatest hour with Donegal New York on the playing fields was when he managed the club’s junior team to New York championship success in 1995.
After he hung up his playing boots he got involved in the administration side and held many positions before rising to chairman.
He served 13 years in the club’s top job before graduating to the New York Board as senior divisional chairman. The Division Board is the body that oversees the running of all senior clubs, both football and hurling, under the board’s jurisdiction.
And from there he moved to New York board chairman, a position he held for the three years prior to his elevation to the top job at the end of November.
And now he holds the reigns for the Association in one of the capitals of the world in a time of great change and many challenges.
But have no fear; in the hands of Laurence McGrath, the Association couldn’t be safer. He is a GAA through and through; it’s in his genes.