By Jameson Hurley
The inaugural Music City Invitational, hosted by the Nashville Gaelic Athletic Club, was the first event of its kind in the state of Tennessee. Hurling and camogie teams from St. Louis, MO; Indianapolis, IN; Atlanta, GA; and Knoxville, TN traveled to the host city for an action-packed day of Gaelic games. The event, which was postponed for two weeks due to ice and snow that rendered the pitch unplayable, was played under beautiful sunny skies and mild spring conditions.
The Opening Ceremony
Early arriving players were welcomed to the pitch by a dense layer of fog. As the players warmed up, the fog lifted, and the day was underway. The Nashville Pipe and Drum Corps kicked off the opening ceremonies followed by the singing of the National Anthems of the United States of America and the Republic of Ireland. Reverend John Hammond, of Christ the King Parish, gave a moving benediction, and with that, the matches were off.
6 hurling teams and 3 camogie teams set off into battle to see who would claim the cups. In the group stages of hurling, Indy Green, St. Louis, and Nashville competed in the Green Division, while Atlanta, Knoxville, and Indy Black faced off in the Gold Division. Over on the camogie pitch Atlanta 1, Atlanta 2, and a combined Indy/Nashville squad were set to compete in a round robin tournament.
On to the Matches
The first two matches of the day featured Indy Green v. host club Nashville and Atlanta v. a newly formed club form Knoxville, a team of U.S. Army Reserve soldiers. Both matches were spirited and competitive, but the experience of the long established clubs of Indy and Atlanta proved too much for the newer kids on the block. Final score: Indy Green 7-12 (33) to Nashville 1-3 (6) and Atlanta 7-16 (37) to Knoxville 1-0 (3).
Next up on pitch 1 were the Sons of Liberty from St. Louis v. Indy Green. The long-established friendly rivalry between Indy and St. Louis proved to be one of the highlights of the day, with an excellent display of long-range pointing and strong defensive stands from both teams. In the end, it was the crisp passing and efficient teamwork of the men from the Hoosier state that gave them the full-time edge. St. Louis 0-7 to Indy 0-11. Over on pitch 2, Indy Black put up a valiant effort, but their friends from the South proved too experienced and too strong a side. Atlanta took the victory, and with it advanced to the next stage of the tournament along with Indianapolis Green.
Over to the Camogie Pitch
Who would face Indy Green and Atlanta in those next matches? That was to be decided shortly thereafter when Nashville faced off against St. Louis, and Knoxville tested their improving skills against Indy Black. But first, all in attendance would be treated excellent match on the camogie pitch. Atlanta, last year’s North American camogie champions split their squad for the round robin stages. The first camogie match featured Atlanta 1 v. Indy/Nashville, and what a thrilling match it was. Excellent ball movement, precise scores, and amazing defensive plays kept the assembled fans on their toes. In the end the Indy/Nashville Squad found the space between the posts more often, scoring 7-8 (29) to Atlanta’s 5-3 (18). Indy would go on to face the second Atlanta squad, ending that match with a similar result, and thus claimed the championship. What would happen in the “friendly” scheduled for later in the day, when Atlanta would play at full strength against their northern rivals?
Back to Hurling
Back on the hurling pitch, it was Chairman of the Nashville GAC Johnny Watson’s former club mates from St. Louis who were set to do battle the host city. Pride was on the line for the Nashville forward, as a victory against the men he led to a National Championship just 4 years prior would mark quite an accomplishment for the club he founded just 2 years ago. The winner of the match would go on to face Atlanta in the next round, while the loser would be relegated to a shield match against the Gold Division’s 3rd place team. The competition was fair but fierce, with both sides exchanging blows. With minutes to go, Nashville took a 2-point lead, when Watson snuck a ball past the goalie. St. Louis, not done with their effort responded with a quick point followed closely by another. With time nearly expired and the match level, Nashville was awarded a free. Tension filled the air as the sliotar was lifted and struck. Wide. The game ended in a draw, with both teams earning a point, and St. Louis advanced on point differential.
On the adjacent pitch, the men from Indy Black faced off against Knoxville. The newcomers, strengthened by the addition of two experienced subs, dug in and played hard. While the skill was not quite there, the passion and courage was. Indy Black, with their experience, led the charge, putting up 7 brilliant points from play. But those points, combined with 3 goals would, in the end, not be enough to offset the new found goal scoring prowess of the Knoxville side. At the final whistle, the scorecard read: Knoxville 6-3 (21) to Indy Black 3-7 (16). Knoxville was set to face the other Indy side in the next round.
The top two hurling teams from each division took to the pitch to decide who would face off in the championship match. On field 1, it was Indy Green who would put Knoxville’s recent winning ways to the test. The boys from Indy wasted no time in putting up the first score, as Knoxville struggled to win the ball. Once they started scoring, Indy did not stop, and while Knoxville turned to the subs that led them to victory in the earlier match against their opponent’s fellow clubmen, their scores came too rarely to slow Indy down. At full time, the scoreboard told the tale: Indy Green 5-18 (33) to Knoxville 1-4 (7). Indy Green advanced to the final.
On field 2, St. Louis, hoping to show that the draw against Nashville was unlike their usual winning ways, faced off against a tough Atlanta side. The match was physical from the start with each team’s strongmen attacking the ball with ferocious intensity. The battles at midfield gave way to attacks on goal, which were shut down time and time again by each side’s defense. While the both sides gave their all in hopes of reaching the championship, it was Atlanta who won the chance to challenge Indy Green for the cup. St. Louis would have to settle for a consolation match against Knoxville.
Over to the Camogie Pitch
Back over at the camogie pitch, a full strength Atlanta side greeted the combined Indy/Nashville squad for a “friendly” battle for pride. A high standard of play was on full display, as neither side wanted to leave the pitch the loser. There were scores to be had, and scores were indeed found, with the ladies from Atlanta showing their supporters why they were the deserving winners of last year’s National title. In the end, it was Atlanta who prevailed with a score of 7-37 (58) to 1-11 (14).
With 3 matches left for the day, the men of Nashville and Indy Black faced off in the shield match. The green and gold side, still suffering for the disappointment of finishing 3rd in their division after the tie against St. Louis, took to the pitch with heads held high, while Indy Black, having suffered two defeats, were determined to get a win. Nashville, however, proved the stronger side, defeating their opponents 3-9 (18) to 1-2 (5).
In the consolation match, Knoxville, having lost their two star substitutes, picked up a number of reserves from Nashville. This new support led to a competitive match at times, but the St. Louis Sons of Liberty, with their seasoned veterans, proved to strong for the tired minds and legs of the men from Tennessee. Final score: St. Louis 8-12 (36) to Knoxville 2-3 (9).
And the Final Match
The final match of the day would give the Music City Invitational its inaugural hurling champions. Indy Green took to the pitch to face Atlanta, two teams that proved all day that they deserved to vie for the cup. The competition was intense from the opening throw in as both teams clashed and fought for every open ball. Indy approached the game with practiced, precision passing, and set themselves up to launch points over Atlanta’s bar. Atlanta countered with attacks from seasoned veterans, many who’ve played for decades, as they worked their way through Indy’s defense. The ash continued to clash, the scores continued to mount, and the players continued to offer a display of elegant, workmanlike hurling. The assembled crowd roared at every hard fought battle, every decisive defensive stand, and every superb score. The sides held each other tight to a narrow score line, but when time expired, it was Atlanta who held the slight edge and claimed the cup: Atlanta 4-13 (25) to Indy Green 4-10 (22).
The day, which had started on such a high note, ended on and even higher one with top class, quality displays of hurling and camogie from all teams involved. From players who have played for a lifetime to those who’ve only been playing for 2 weeks, the standard of play was impressive, the courage and passion were evident, and the love of the games on full display.
Off to Afters and The Trophy Presentation
The teams gathered later in the evening for afters at Dan McGuinness Irish Pub to share in the success of the day, to lick their wounds, and to tell tall tales of sporting heroics. Trophy presentations were made to the ladies of Indianapolis, victors in the camogie tournament, and the men of Atlanta, the winning side in the hurling tournament. The inaugural Music City Invitational was declared a great success, and the future looks bright for this event to become a successful annual event. Proof once again that Gaelic sports are alive and well in the South of the USA.