Cahill absorbs Irish culture on national team

Photo by John Cahill

Fending off a defender is Aaron Cahill, left, during the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships in Denver last July. Cahill, of Guilderland, played for Team Ireland, which placed 10th out of 38 nations in the tournament. Cahill scored seven goals and had six assists in eight games, and took most of Ireland’s face-offs.

Back when Aaron Cahill was thinking of playing lacrosse at an international level, he had three options: As an American, he could tryout for the mighty United States team; or, with both Irish and Polish blood in his family tree, he could vie for a spot with Ireland or Poland.

It wasn’t that difficult of a choice.

“I wouldn’t have made the U.S. team,” said Cahill, a 2008 graduate of Guilderland High School who now lives in Syracuse. “I wanted to play for Ireland because I take my heritage to heart and want to give back.”

Cahill’s late grandfather, Thomas, one of 16 children, grew up in Mitchelstown, in County Cork, Ireland. He came over to the United States in the 1920s, and some of Cahill’s family still lives in Ireland.

Spending a week in Dublin for Team Ireland tryouts last October, Cahill got his Irish citizenship. As a starting midfielder for Ireland at last July’s Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships in Denver, he took the majority of the team’s face-offs, scored seven goals, and had six assists in eight games.

“I played almost every minute of every game,” Cahill said.

Ireland went 6-2 over eight games in Denver — beating Uganda (17-1), France (22-5), Bermuda (15-5), Czech Republic (12-10), Switzerland (13-6), and New Zealand (12-10) and losing to Israel (9-18) and Germany (6-8) — finishing in 10th place out of 38 nations. Cahill was selected as the MVP in the game against the Czech Republic.

Cahill told The Enterprise that Ireland has a different perspective on lacrosse than the U.S., and less talent. However, Ireland was the first European country to host an official lacrosse game; the Irish played the Native Americans, he said.

“It’s growing over there, but not like it is here,” Cahill said. “The biggest difference is experience and competition. The Irish know what they’re doing, and my teammates were good, but lacrosse is not well supported.”

Kids in Ireland are more interested in playing sports like rugby, curling, and soccer. “They really have to be convinced,” Cahill said. “Most of the Irish guys either played in the States already or played in clubs in Ireland, and most of them didn’t play until they were like 20 years old. They don’t have as many resources.”

Cahill said that Team Ireland’s roster for the FIL tournament in Denver had 11 players who lived in the U.S. and 11 who lived in Ireland. Canada won the championship, the U.S. finished in second place, the Native Americans were third, and Australia was fourth.

“It was really competitive,” said Cahill of the World Championships in Denver. “Some opponents aren’t up to speed, but you’re running with the best talent in the world for the majority of the time. Also, I found out that 200,000 people play lacrosse in Japan.”

While studying at LeMoyne College — he graduated in 2013 with a master’s degree in business — Cahill won a Division II national championship as a co-captain of the lacrosse team. It was during his time at LeMoyne College that he thought about playing lacrosse on an international level.

To get his dream rolling, Cahill contacted Richie Moran, the team leader for Ireland, and Michael Kennedy, a representative from the FIL. It took a while for Cahill to get Irish citizenship, he said, but it helped his chances of making the team.

“The fields weren’t lined and there was no crease,” Cahill said of the tryouts at the University College of Dublin. “Someone shut the lights off on us.”

The tryouts for Team Ireland were held on Halloween weekend, and the Irish take Halloween seriously, said Cahill. This was his first time visiting the country.

“For our initiation, we had to sing the Gaelic national anthem in front of everyone,” Cahill said. “Everyone was friendly, and, if I ever needed directions, people would help. The openness was great.”

Since lacrosse isn’t a major sport in Ireland, the national team doesn’t receive any funding from the country’s sports foundation; players and coaches paid their own way to Denver. Paying most of the expenses himself, Cahill also reached out to his local lacrosse community. Breakaway Lacrosse in Latham provided him some sponsorship.

“Either way, players are playing for the name on the front of the jersey,” said Cahill. “Money helps, but it’s fine to pay for ourselves while we work to grow the sport. It’s well worth it.’

Cahill said that more U.S. players are trying to spend more time over in Ireland, and he plans on going back soon. An international indoor lacrosse tournament being held in Syracuse, where he works at Marguard Switches, next year, so Cahill hopes to be on the Irish roster.

Playing for Team Ireland was an incredible experience for Cahill. His favorite moment was singing the Gaelic national anthem before every game.

“We sang it loud and proud,” said Cahill. “No one really speaks Gaelic anymore. It’s neat.”

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