Galway City Tribune - Opinion Piece
American student in Galway hooked on Gaelic footballOctober 18, 2012 - 8:02am
SOMETIMES it pays to keep your mouth shut and nobody realises the value of that more than NUI Galway Gaelic footballer Conor Canavan. That’s why since arriving down to the training pitches in Dangan last month, he has rarely opened his mouth, preferring to let his talents on the field do all the talking for him.
So what, you may say. Well, while Conor Canavan has good Tyrone blood in him – he’s a distant relation to the legendary Peter Canavan – he actually is a born and bred American, one who only took up Gaelic football in his native Philadelphia two years ago.
Having spent the last two Summers rubbing shoulders with far more experienced players at Young Irelanders in Philadelphia – many of whom came over from Ireland during the holidays to play football – Canavan has come to recognise the scepticism in those players’ eyes whenever he takes to the field. An American! Playing Gaelic football!
However, that very sport has become his passion and it is one of the reasons he is now studying at NUI Galway. “It was one of the main reasons I wanted to come here,” reiterates the 20-year-old, as he sits in the coffee shop at NUIG’s Kingfisher Gym. “I wanted to play Gaelic football.
“Another reason beyond that was I wanted to meet my family [in Tyrone] because a lot of them I hadn’t seen in a while or had never met at all. That said, I love Gaelic football and I love playing. When I came here, I wanted to get involved right away.”
That he did, one of approximately 50 players who tried out for the two Freshers teams in the University. Without saying a word, he was selected for the ‘B’ outfit and last week played his part in their opening round game against IT Sligo in Dangan.
“I decided to keep that (his American roots) a secret,” states the affable Canavan. “Over the last two Summers, when they (Irish players) find out you are American, they think you play badly. So, I tried keeping that a secret.
“So, half the team don’t even know that I am American yet. A couple of boys have asked where I am from but I say ‘Philly’ really quietly. I am sure by next week, they will all know. The secret is out now.”
A Marketing Major at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Canavan is only in the West of Ireland for one semester and is taking classes in English, marketing, biogeography and history at NUI Galway. And of course, Gaelic football.
“I played soccer all the way through High School for Bonnar [Catholic High School] – I also played club soccer for Spirit United – and then I played soccer for the university in the first semester. It is nothing like a college sport over here. There is a lot more dedication, about 25 hours a week, along with practice and study hall hours.
“My grades weren’t keeping up so I had to quit. When I gave up that I still wanted to stay active so my dad [Dominic] said to play Gaelic football in the Summer. Ever since then, I love the sport. It has been my favourite sport of all those I have played, and I played American football, basketball, soccer and rugby. Gaelic football tops all of them.”
In addition to featuring regularly with Young Irelanders – who won the North American men’s intermediate final this past Summer – Canavan is currently in the process of forming a Gaelic football team at his university back home and they hope to have games this Fall.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.