Offseason Catch Up with Simon Gillespie
Craig Gridelli, The Runner Sports, sat down with new RUNY Manager and Academy Director, Simon Gillespie to ask a few questions about his new appointment.
Craig Gridelli: Was rugby the most popular sport where you grew up?
Simon Gillespie: In my hometown of Ballyshannon Gaelic Football was the #1 sport by a significant distance. We had three men from my hometown who were on the 1992 All Ireland winning Donegal team and that was very significant. Rugby was something we watched as kids and followed but it always trailed behind Gaelic Football and Hurling, the sports of the Gaelic Athletic Association [“GAA’], and soccer. Our area is a non-traditional rugby area but since I was a kid the clubs have developed their underage structure. They go right down to U8 Rugby level and have a women’s team and a presence in the local high school which wasn’t the case when I grew up.
CG: Then what elements of rugby drew you to the sport?
SG: I love the physical nature of Rugby. I love the fact that it suits people of every athletic ability and that the core thing that matters to a player is bravery and determination to make the tackle or make the hard yards. I love the culture of Rugby where it’s 80 minutes of brutality but once the game is over your opponent is your friend and you were encouraged to talk to them and enjoy the craic with them. Finally, I love how Rugby unites people in Ireland in its own unique way. I have never experienced an atmosphere like Ireland v England at Croke Park in 2007 and I think it’s a true model for creating unity in a time of political polarization in Ireland.
CG: When did you first arrive in New York?
SG: I came to New York in 1998 and 2007 on vacation and moved there to work for the New York GAA in 2010 and have been here ever since.
CG: So when you worked for the GAA, you were partly responsible for developing an entirely different non-traditional (for Americans) sport. What were the biggest challenges in growing sports like Gaelic football and hurling here in New York? How did you approach those challenges?
SG: Like every sport, we struggled with competition from other sports especially given our lack of awareness from a National sports level. However, we did have a great passion from our volunteers who dedicated a tremendous amount of time to ensure the development of GAA in the Tri-State area.
CG: How did you first get introduced to RUNY?
SG: I first met James Kennedy in 2015 when we worked together to promote and fundraise for Solace House, a suicide awareness charity that provides free counseling to people in suicidal distress. We again worked together when Rugby United New York played their first game against Boston in 2018 in Gaelic Park. From then, I ran a coaching session for RUNY backs on kick chase and blocking in the Spring and then sat down with James Kennedy and James English after the season to work on how I could bring my skill set to RUNY.
CG: As the newly appointed Team Manager, what are your responsibilities for the team?
SG: My job will primarily be getting the team from A to B, ensuring that things run smoothly from a logistical point of view. Moving 30+ people around the country will be a challenging task and that will be my priority. After that I’m very excited about my Role as Head of Academy and working on developing a pathway for up-and-coming players into our Senior Team.
CG: Are you bringing lessons learned from Gaelic and hurling development to the rugby landscape? What initiatives do you think can make the biggest impact?
SG: Working with GAA in America definitely gives you experience in the challenges of developing a non-traditional sport in a new market. The main lesson the GAA taught me is that in order to be successful in this country you have to be prepared to work harder than the competition. Developing a better product is the key to new audiences and I think bringing a serious work ethic is a key to engaging new audience.
CG:What do you foresee as the biggest changes for RUNY’s second season compared to the 2019 campaign?
SG: 2019 overall I think was a very successful year for RUNY in terms of developing as an organization. And with how close the team was to a championship last year, 2020 definitely will be a big challenge. At the end of the day, though, there are no moral victories in pro-sports and we know the only measure of success for next year will be whether we win a championship or not.
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