By Mike Fitzpatrick
Move over, Miss Liberty, there’s a new attraction in town. The New York Senior Football side, having trained together for several months, are on the final leg of their warming up schedule and fly out to Ireland this Friday to compete in their historic first game as part of the 115-year-old All-Ireland Football Championship. Having originally comprised 45 players, the squad has been pared down to include just 26 of New York’s finest footballers, several of whom saw action last Sunday at Gaelic Park in what turned out to be their final turn outs for their respective club sides before heading off for their momentous tour to Ireland.
It’s not the first time though that a Big Apple side have ventured to Ireland to compete with intercounty sides. In 1950, the Yanks caused a huge upset when they defeating Kerry (that year’s Munster finalists) in a warm up game. More shock waves followed when they appeared in the National Football League Final, where they disposed of a Cavan side (mostly composed of players from their 1947 and 1948 All-Ireland Championship winning teams) by a score of 2-8 to 0-12. The 1950s were glory days for New York football, with crowds in the thousands regularly making the trek to Gaelic Park to see their teams in action.
New York sides regularly made appearances in National League games in the years up until 1970, until Dublin referee Clem Foley was injured in an incident at Gaelic Park that ultimately led to a cooling in the relationship between the New York Board and Croke Park.
Those days are long gone, however, and it is a completely different set-up now that witnesses the introduction of New York to one of the most famous sporting competitions in the world. The date for the battle versus Mayo has been set at May 29, to be played in Castlebar. Frank Brady’s side will face Clare in a warm-up game, and then will play a number of matches versus local club sides as they prepare for what will be for many of the New York players the game of their lives.
So who are the New York football side? Manager Frank Brady was chosen to lead the side before Christmas, largely due to his huge successes in managing his native Leitrim side to a phenomenal five Senior Football Championships in New York in the 1990s. A psychology professor at Long Island University, Brady knows all about psyching up his players and developing the correct attitude toward playing the game. Experienced Donegal man Leslie McGettigan, who still occasionally turns out for the Ulster side, has been ferociously putting the players through their paces in training since Christmas, and the third selector, Pat Scanlon of Clare, will be assisting Brady in the unenviable task of choosing who to play and who to leave out.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Among the players, those supporters who have attended Gaelic Park will be familiar with most of them, though there are a few new faces who have arrived in New York in the last year or so. The more experienced among the American-based players include John "Cookie" Meehan, who is the proud owner of six New York Championship winners medals; Joe Cassidy, who has tasted success at every level from under age to senior; Neville Dunne, who played alongside Colm O’Rourke for Meath in 1994; Pat Mahoney, considered by many observers to be the best midfielder playing in New York; four time New York All-Star Kevin Lilly; Leitrim footballer Jim Donohoe, who also excels at hurling; Edmund Cleary, who has tasted success at different levels with Cork, and Bronx-born forward Brian McCabe, who played football and hurling at every level for Westmeath.
Brady: eager for challenge
I spoke with Frank Brady prior to a recent training session, and following are some excerpts from the interview:
MF: What has the atmosphere been like among the players in the New York camp coming so close to the showdown with Mayo?
FB: The atmosphere is very positive. The guys are looking forward to the challenge, they realize that they’ll be competing at a different level and have been preparing very well for the last five months. (The players) have never wavered in their commitment, and we’ve had over a 90 percent turnout at training, both over the winter and recently, and I think that’s quite exceptional."
MF: How fit are the New York players compared to the level of intercounty players in Ireland?
FB: We can only surmise at this stage that we are at least as fit. We are familiar with the intensity of the training regimen that they have over there, and to a certain extent we try to follow that here, but we were limited by the weather conditions and training facilities and a number of other things.
MF: How difficult will it be picking the team?
FB: It’s quite difficult to pick the team because we have a very balanced blend of players, and the team is more (complete) due to the sum of its parts, if you wish (rather than any outstanding individuals). The camaraderie between the players is very strong, which I feel will be an asset.
MF: (Upon noticing that players who had just completed full games in the hot weather, were preparing for a grueling training session almost immediately afterward). I see Kevin Lilly just having played a game for Longford, lining up for training immediately afterward. Is that a typical New York player’s attitude?
FB: Yes, the fact that they’ve had a game prior to this is not regarded or accepted as a legitimate excuse not to be here. We have asked all along that New York be a primary commitment, irrespective of what their other commitments are."
MF: How do you see New York performing versus a team of Mayo’s caliber?
FB: Mayo will at the end of it be very much aware that they were in a hell of a tough game, and we do not intend to be cannon fodder for anybody. We’ll battle to the very end, that’s what we’ve been about since day one. We’re very much aware that we have a very tough assignment, and I think that we’ll give it our best shot. We started early in January, and I think that the dividends will show in Castlebar.
An understandably cautious yet optimistic Frank Brady speaking five days before the team are due to fly out to Mayo. One important development we’ve been made aware of concerning the Mayo camp, is that star forward Kieran McDonald, seen playing by the Gaelic Park faithful last season when he guested for Leitrim, will not be lining out for the Connaught side. McDonald proved his talents last year in New York, and it’s surely a good sign that he will not appear in Castlebar.
There will be a farewell function for the New York players on Thursday evening at the Lansdowne Bar beginning at 8 p.m. Music will be provided by Irish band, Keltic Kaos. The players and officials will fly out the following day. Anybody thinking of going to the game, and unable to secure accommodation can contact tour manager Pat Gavin at (914) 237-9372. Pat is well up to date on all the hotels and bed and breakfasts in the area.
New York Panel:
Name Age Club Home County
Eunan Doherty 26 Donegal Donegal
Mike Martin 33 Stamford New York
Gary Dowd 21 Donegal Fermanagh
Kieran Keaveney 27 Donegal Roscommon
Keith Hennessy 24 Stamford Tipperary
Joe Cassidy 34 Cavan England
John Meehan 30 Leitrim New York
Pat Mahoney 28 Cork USA
Enda Henry 26 Sligo Mayo
Eddie Murphy 24 Monaghan Monaghan
Willie O’Donnell 27 Kerry Limerick
Stephen Cassidy 24 Donegal Scotland
Sean Teague 25 Tyrone Tyrone
Kevin Lilly 28 :Longford New York
Donal Breslin 29 Donegal Donegal
Mike Slowey 25 Tyrone England
Emmet Haughian 29 Westmeath Chicago
Gerry Kelly 26 Donegal Donegal
Jim Donohue 32 Leitrim London
Neville Dunne 24 Leitrim Meath
Owen Cummins 28 Donegal Tipperary
Brendan Duffy 26 Monaghan Monaghan
Edmund Cleary 28 Donegal Cork
Brian McCabe 34 Westmeath New York
Danny Sullivan 28 Celtics New York
Richie Purcell 22 Stamford Wexford