It’s a distant land with close proximity to the hearts of two Manhattan College athletes who hold Gaelic roots near and dear. Each wears the Irish badge with pride.
“The landscape of Ireland is surreal,” former Manhattan lacrosse player Tadhg O’Riordan says.
The career of an athlete comes with a tangible risk that the end of their athletic days is near. The window may even be shorter when it comes to playing on the international level for a country.
That is why when O’Riordan entered training camp with Team Ireland ahead of this Summer’s World Lacrosse Men’s Championship, San Diego was more than just a blip on his radar.
It was his chance to bring glory to Ireland.
His mother, Emer, was born in Donegal and his paternal grandfather and grandmother are from Cork and Galway, respectively.
“I just remember one time in the Summer my brother (Rory) and I were running down the hills of Donegal,” O’Riordan said. “That was probably my greatest memory.”
Fresh off his fifth season playing for the Manhattan men’s lacrosse team, O’Riordan arrived in San Diego playing the best lacrosse of his career. Team Ireland, which featured half American players, including O’Riordan, captured 12th place after losing to Germany, 8-7, in the final game.
The 30 best teams in the world collided for the 11-day tournament which garnered 82,000 fans in attendance and several million viewers online. With O’Riordan and his teammates following along, Team USA marched to victory over Team Canada 10-7 on July 1.
“So many teams were happy to be there and brought joy to the sport,” O’Riordan said. “Uganda was playing and every time they scored their guys were going crazy.”
Meanwhile, another Spring sports counterpart in Gregory Shaw III, a right-handed pitcher and infielder for the Manhattan baseball team, had prepared a long time for the moment he would suit up for the Irish Wolfhounds.
In order to play for the Wolfhounds, a player needs to be eligible for Irish citizenship. Shaw qualified for it through his mother, Michelle, whose own mother hailed from County Clare. Even before the pandemic, which scrapped Shaw’s plans to compete in the Under 18 European Baseball Championship, the Cornwall-on-Hudson native coveted an opportunity with the Wolfhounds.
“Getting the dual citizenship paperwork takes a very long time and the pandemic made it even longer,” the boys’ father Greg Shaw Sr. said.
That dream became a reality when Shaw and his younger brother, Tommie, an incoming freshman at Vermont State University both got calls from manager Eric Holtz and general manager John Fitzgerald.
“We figured they would never play together again so the fact they got to suit up and be together again was really cool,” Shaw Sr. said.
On June 17, the brothers took the field at Clover Stadium in Pomona to take part in the Wolfhounds’ debut game against New York Police Department’s Finest, a recreational team featuring former college or professional players who later joined the New York Police Department.
“They played Irish music the entire time,” said Shaw, who recalls the sound of bagpipes blaring through ballpark speaker system.
The Wolfhounds won 9-1 over New York’s Finest after exploding for seven runs in the late innings. The older Shaw took in most of the action from the bench after pitching the night before for the Albany Dutchmen of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. However, he did get one at-bat as a pinch hitter to get in on the action.
“It meant a lot to be able to represent my country and play the game I love,” Shaw said.
For Shaw and his teammates, the vision is to one day compete for Ireland in the World Baseball Classic, the premier global baseball tournament held once every few years. Shaw is in it for the long haul and dreams about such uncharted baseball moments.
“It means more to them when they play for their heritage,” said Shaw, whose father’s family also immigrated from Ireland generations ago. “I think Ireland can make some noise in that and hopefully get some international recognition.”
One year down, Shaw’s brightest moments early in his Jaspers career include a memorable home run at Niagara and pitching two scoreless innings in a MAAC playoff game against Fairfield. Ultimately, Shaw feels most comfortable on the mound. Being around former New York Mets pitcher Ryan O’ Rourke, now a Wolfhounds teammate, was a real treat for Shaw.
“The way he can control the game and pound the strike zone was impressive to watch,” Shaw said. “There is a reason he was playing in the big leagues.”
Not to mention being back in his stomping grounds at Clover Stadium felt good, too. The Jaspers baseball program calls the suburban ballpark their home these days.
“The ballpark is beautiful,” Shaw said. “We would rather play on campus but this is the next best thing.”
With one Jasper career only blossoming, O’Riordan meanwhile recently graduated with his master’s degree. His five-year career in the Kelly Green and White was a successful mission both from a team standpoint and individually. O’Riordan starred for the 2022 MAAC Championship team and this past season was named Second Team All-MAAC. He started 13 games and registered seven goals and one assist.
“Tadhg is a little bit of a throwback in Division I Lacrosse,” said James Amandola Jr., a former volunteer Manhattan lacrosse coach and varsity boys lacrosse coach at Tappan Zee High School. “He plays two ways as a midfielder. He’s a threat on offense but also one of the best players back on defense.”
O’Riordan showed off his athleticism and versatility in San Diego by tallying 9 goals, five assists and 14 ground balls in seven games. On one sequence against the Netherlands, O’Riordan beat his defender down the right side before unleashing a diving shot just outside the crease. He also added the game-winning score to beat Latvia, 8-7, in a double-overtime thriller.
“We didn’t grow up together but all had so many similar experiences,” O’Riordan said of the experience of bonding with his Irish-American teammates. “The culture combination of that was cool.”
Despite being from Rockland County, O’Riordan grew up playing Gaelic Football at Gaelic Park. He would travel for games with Rockland GAA and from an early age got a taste of what sport meant to the Irish community in Riverdale.
O’Riordan even recalls the story of his grandfather coming to New York City for the first time and stumbling upon the community and visiting symbolic places like Gaelic Park. It was so arresting that it made him ditch his plans on going to Boston and joining the Catholic priesthood.
“There is so much culture and memories for my family in Gaelic Park,” O’Riordan said.