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O'Rourke looking forward to Gaelic Park return   05/01/2014

Meath great Colm O'Rourke will be in Gaelic Park this weekend to take part in a uniquely Bronx version of the Sunday Game. He spoke to NY GAA PRO John Riordan about his days playing in the famous venue and why it's redevelopment is vital to the future of the Association here. 

The first game Colm O'Rourke ever played in Gaelic Park in the Bronx was a learning curve on many levels.

It was 1979 and Mike Carty had just convinced the future Meath star to choose a summer in New York over playing with Wolfe Tones in Chicago.

In atrocious conditions in Kingsbridge, the Leitrim selectors gave him his orders: he was to line out at full back against Clare.

So did that one and only experience in the rear guard pave the way for his noted tough streak later on in the 1980s when he won two All-Irelands in a row at corner forward for the Royal County?

"Maybe yes," he acknowledges laughing when he spoke to GAANewYork.com by phone on Thursday. 

"I think they wanted to teach me about back play so maybe they had my best interests at heart. It was certainly a good lesson in that side of the game!

"It was raining cats and dogs, I'll never forget it. There were probably three inches of water and that sand down the middle. The game went ahead for some reason! I had always wanted to play there but that introduction was a little underwhelming! Certainly unforgettable though!"

The RTE analyst will be in New York this weekend to attend the Mayo game and will offer match analysis on the field at half-time as part of a unique Bronx version of the Sunday Game along with two recently retired legends of the game, Johnny Doyle of Kildare and Ciaran Whelan of Dublin.

Doyle and Whelan, in town on behalf of the Gaelic Players Association, will join O'Rourke and ESPN announcer Tommy Smyth on the field at half-time of Sunday's Connacht Senior Football Championship game in order to promote the multi-million dollar redevelopment of Gaelic Park, a project which is close to O'Rourke's heart.

"This is something which is vital to the Irish community in New York," the multiple All Star pointed out. "I'm delighted to be able to get behind. Gaelic Park is a hub of activity where people meet, where men and women fall in love and where newcomers - like I was at one time - find contacts with job opportunities. 

"It's even more vital these days because it is helping to keep the GAA thriving and will continue to do so. It's the center of the Irish community and it deserves to have the best of facilities in order to keep Irish people connected. It needs to be supported." 

Of course these days, O'Rourke doesn't just offer his expertise to TV viewers, he is also a stalwart on the sidelines at the legendary school, St Pat's, Navan while he also manages the senior team of Simonstown Gaels in Navan.

"I have my son Shane with me there. We have never won a county title but we're steadily working in that direction."

His family connections to New York were very strong and though he lived in Manhattan while playing football, he had relatives in Woodlawn and White Plains.

"My father's family - his two brothers and two sisters - came out in the 1920s and 30s. In fact my Uncle John was part of the US army in World War II.  

"So it was pleasure to go over there and I always got great satisfaction playing in New York. You were always sure of a great welcome when you were young fella looking for work. That tradition of looking after young people is what makes the GAA so special across the world. It must be one of greatest membership organizations on earth.

"I'll be eternally grateful to all the people who looked after me."

As for this weekend, O'Rourke downplays the tribulations Mayo went through in the league.

"It seems James Horan experimented quite a bit with his line-up. They were probably as well off not getting to the final because Dublin were in such lethal form. In all likelihood, they would have taken a beating.

"It has also given him time to rearrange things. The defense has been leaking quite severely and obviously Higgins has been redeployed there. Maybe Horan is feeling quite rightly that he has to get his defense right before the attack.

"They have conceded far too many scores so it's always a good time to start with the back line, keep the score down and work from there."

O'Rourke has been over in recent years to watch New York and points out that the current panel enjoys extra playing options this year.   

"Brendan Quigley is a very good midfield and would hold his own against anybody in the game. He has done very well in the past in Leinster Championships and his experience is impressive. Likewise they have Keith Quinn available to them and another very good player is Ross Wherity who scored a great goal against Tyrone last summer.

"They are well known to people and that's a very good spine."