Category: Archive

Underdog New Yorkers say ‘Bring on Sligo’

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Peter Nolan

“This is our town, and were not going to back down one inch.” With those defiant words, New York’s blunt-speaking manager, Paddy Kearney, threw down the gauntlet to Sligo. After all the months of backroom and backpage wrangling, it comes down to this: Can New York upset Sligo in the first-ever Senior Football Championship match in which the exiles are the home team?

This marks the fourth consecutive year New York has competed in the Connacht championship. The previous three were played in Ireland. In 1999, their inaugural year, the New Yorkers fell to Mayo 3-12 to 0-11 at McHale Park in Castlebar. In 2000, they lost to All-Ireland champs Galway 1-15 to 1-5. Then last year, they extended Roscommon, producing a second-half rally that pulled them to within two point with 15 minutes left before falling 3-13 to 1-9 at Dr. Hyde Park. Several members of that panel are also playing this year.

Indeed, the team that Kearney will turn to on Sunday are an experienced group that should not be overwhelmed by the big occasion. Several have previous experience representing New York in the Connacht Championship in Ireland. And as many as six of the 15 players who Kearney and selectors Pat Scanlon and Connie Molloy will send into battle next Sunday have togged out for their home counties in the Senior Championship.

Michael and Martin Slowey have both competed in the Ulster Championship for their home county of Monaghan. The duo of Niall McCreedy and Martin Coll have done likewise for Donegal. John O’Driscoll represented his native Kerry and James Mitchell has lined out for Offaly.

New York are facing some injury worries with wing forward Tadgh Foley almost certainly unavailable. Longtime New York fullback Owen Cummins continues to struggle with a serious back condition and Brendan Horan, another wing forward, is also doubtful. Pat Mahoney is trying to recover from a hand injury. Cummins, Horan and Mahoney face a rigorous fitness test before the selection committee cuts the panel from the current 29 to 24 for the match.

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The team is captained by Eunan Doherty. Doherty has been an automatic selection in the New York goal for many years now. Doherty is a familiar figure between the posts at Gaelic Park backstopping Donegal to several New York Championships.

Cummins’s condition will have ramifications for the defense, although Kearney could well hand the number 3 jersey to Mitchell. Johnny O’Driscoll is a strong possibility for center back with Martin Slowey likely on one of his wings. The versatile McCready could be the other wingback, although he may find himself at cornerback if the matchups dictate.

Pa Murphy has a good chance to start at one cornerback, although competition should be fierce. Kieran Walsh and Darren Rocks, and contenders, and Kearney and company have several other options. Vice captain Ken O’Connor will probably be partnered at midfield by Martin Coll, although Paul Higgins could press for a slot.

Pat Mahoney should be the center forward, if fit. The in-form Michael Slowey gives New York a high-quality full forward. Bingo O’Driscoll will be somewhere up front and Kevin Lilly has a good chance to be the only Irish American in the starting team.

The other two forward spots could be filled in any number of ways — Jamie O’Driscoll, Paddy O’Connor, Noel McPartland and Donal Breslin. Kearney can pick and choose from a talented group and know he has good men in reserve.

New York have been in serious training on Randalls Island since January, so injuries aside, they should be fit. Captain Eunan Doherty believes the home field can be a big advantage to the New Yorkers.

“Sligo don’t know what to expect,” Doherty said. “They’re used to playing on a big, open field,” and he adds, “we have a point to prove.” Doherty also notes that the Gotham side will have “our best team out there. This year we have no immigration worries.”

Niall McCready concedes that there is a “massive difference” in the preparation for a championship match from this side of the ocean.

“The facilities in Ireland are way beyond anything here,” the Donegal man said. “In Ireland, work is based around football; here it’s totally the opposite. It makes it that wee bit harder.”

Still, McCready, like the rest of the team, exudes a quiet confidence. Like Doherty, he’s glad to be “home” for this match.

“We’re a lot more used to Gaelic Park and it’s a big plus for us to have the game here,” he said.

New York have lost their only three other forays in the Connacht Championships, falling to Mayo, Galway and Roscommon, all on enemy turf. Undoubtedly the biggest single obstacle facing New York is lack of matches. “That’s the big killer,” said Kearney, “lack of games.” Doherty said that in past matches “early mistakes, soft goals, hurt us.” The captain believes that “if we keep it close up to halftime, we can surprise some people”.

New York will be fit, hungry for respect and comfortable in the cozy confines of Gaelic Park. They will go up against a team that might not be let back into Sligo if they fall to New York. So there is plenty of pressure to go around.

New York needs to start well. Fitness and match fitness are two entirely different things. Marking is likely to be very tight and tackling will be hard. New York head into this match hoping to make history. Kearney believes they can.

“These boys haven’t been training since Jan. 13 for nothing”, he said. “I’m happy with this team and I’m very confident we can pull something off.”

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