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GAA: Cream of crop living dream in America

By Declan Bogue

Sentimentality goes a long way and it was awash in Canton, Boston on Saturday.

With a $20 cover charge at the gate, the Irish emigrants living in the great state of Massachusetts were present for a celebration of their GAA culture.

There were pipe bands, renditions of Irish and American national anthems, ceili music in the aftermath and all the food and drink you could want. Sam Maguire and, bizarrely, Bernard Dunne were present.

But nobody goes to an All-Star match for the football. The lively opener between New York and Boston was where all the passion and all the associated hard-hitting of exiled footballers resided. The All-Stars game, which the 2013 crop won 10-07 to 5-06, was nothing more than a really bad training session with players going for goal in every attack, providing as much light-hearted entertainment for the crowd present, without any of the blood and thunder that characterises their football in the spring and high summer.

This was further strengthened by Eddie Kinsella blowing the whistle a full seven minutes from the scheduled end of the game.

For Armagh and Crossmaglen's Tony Kernan, he's been involved in very few games like this, but that is hardly the point of the All-Stars. Instead it's a time to relax in the company of fellow players, as he did on the Friday when he attended the Boston Celtics defeat to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA.

"There are a lot of people here and we wanted to give them a lot of scores, goals rather than points," the accountant said.

"Boys are having a bit of fun as well. It's been a great trip and we have got on really well.

"It's been my first one (trip) and it's been unbelievable. The way county football is, you would never see these boys. You don't get time to socialise with them unless you go to college in Dublin or Limerick, so it's great to meet them and have a bit of craic."

As the only Armagh man there, Kernan spent his time in the company of a cosmopolitan group of Donegal, Monaghan and Kerry players.

He realises that when he arrives back on Irish soil, it will be all systems go with Armagh as they seek to get out of the third tier of league football and build on their All-Ireland quarter-final appearance.

That all starts in the rather less glamorous world of the O'Fiaich Cup soon, and with Crossmaglen gone for the year, new manager Kieran McGeeney will have unhindered access to the Rangers players.

"We will get back into it with Armagh. It is nice to get a trip like this. You would hope that next year there will be a few more Armagh men asked on things like this," Kernan continued. "We had a decent enough year this year, we are down in Division Three and we are trying to build on that. We are not sure what the goal will be with management, but I would like to think we will be pushing to get out of Division Three."

One man who will not be part of that effort however is brother Aaron, who announced his retirement from inter-county football last month. Tony admits it will be sharply unfamiliar from the routines the brothers had established for themselves.

"It will be very strange. I would sit beside him on the bus and he would practise free-kicks with me after training, so I am going to have to find somebody to hang about after training."

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