concrete jungle

'Roscommon definitely got a louder cheer than we did, which was something we were stung by'

New York went down to Roscommon in agonising circumstances 12 months ago, but will Sunday be different?

WHEN THE ROSCOMMON team left the dressing room and entered the pitch minutes before the Connacht opener in Gaelic Park last May, the New York players realised what they were up against.

A view of the pre match entertainment Ed Mulholland / INPHO Ed Mulholland / INPHO / INPHO

Roscommon were playing 5,000km away from home, but they still received a far bigger cheer than the home side. That hurt.

The New York players gathered together for their pre-match huddle right before throw-in. They spoke about the crowd and summoned even more fire for the battle that lay ahead.

“Even though it was our home ground, Roscommon definitely got a louder cheer than we did, which was something we were stung by,” Keith Scally told The42 last May.

“We highlighted that before the start of the game.”

In ‘Rocky IV’ when Rocky Balboa fights Ivan Drago, the American’s insurmountable spirit proved so infectious, that by the end the Soviet crowd had turned in his favour.

Ciaran Murtagh Ed Mulholland Ed Mulholland

Something similar happened in New York 12 months ago. In a stirring final quarter the crowned sensed the biggest upset in GAA history was on the cards. They were behind by 1-10 to 0-8 on 43 minutes, but dragged themselves back to level terms with a minute of normal time remaining.

“We were four points down at half-time, other years we might have faded away in the second-half,” continued Scally, who played the full game at wing-back.

“Whereas in this game we seemed to be getting stronger as the half was going on. As we were getting stronger, the crowd was getting louder. And it seemed to affect Roscommon.

“No team coming out from home wants to go down in history as the first team to lose a game to New York. It’s been 101 years or whatever it is since the GAA was founded out here. So there is a lot of pressure and once we get on top, it’s bound to start eating away at them.”

Killian Moynagh dejected at the final whistle Ed Mulholland / INPHO Ed Mulholland / INPHO / INPHO

Wave after wave of “Let’s Go New York” chants erupted from the grandstand, but it wasn’t to be. Senan Kilbride clipped over a late winner, and the Rossies survived by the narrowest of margins.

“By the end of the game, after the performance, the crowd was definitely on our side. So that was rewarding enough. The last couple of years I guess New York GAA fans haven’t had a whole pile to cheer about so it’s kind of nice to remind them that there is the talent in this town to someday create that upset.”

Brian Connor, Jonny Glynn and Luke Loughlin, three of the driving forces behind New York’s stunning performance a year ago, are unavailable for Sunday’s tie.

Former Offaly midfielder Connor tore his cruciate ligaments in recent weeks, while Loughlin, who played in a Leinster minor final for Westmeath in 2013, has since returned home. Glynn made a much-publicised decision to play with Galway and Ardrahan this summer.

But Sligo are priced at 11/10 to beat New York by just three points or more, a sure sign that the bookies believe there won’t be much between the teams.

Danny Sutcliffe and Philip Mahony Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

New York have been bolstered by the presence of proven inter-county competitors Danny Sutcliffe and Tom Cunniffe, while exams and injuries have left Sligo in a vulnerable position.

Talented attacker Niall Murphy is out with a hamstring injury, as Kevin McDonnell, Luke Nicholson and Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch will miss out due to exams.

“I can’t ask players to be home in time to sit their exams on Monday morning at 9 o’clock when the game is at half 8 Irish time Sunday night,” Niall Carew told the RTE GAA Podcast earlier this week.

“It’s a bit of a disaster for us. We just have to get on with it.”

There’s a growing sense in the Big Apple that a first ever victory in the All-Ireland SFC will come sooner rather than later.

“Every year we’re trying to change perception of New York football,” Scally, a former Westmeath senior player said.

In the past few years, New York have been on the end of a 16-point loss to Roscommon (2011), 24-point beatings by Sligo (2012) and Leitrim (2013), a 22-point hammering by Mayo (2014) and a 16-point pasting by Galway.

But they’ve had a few close calls either side of those dark days.

Aidan O'Shea celebrates scoring a goal Aidan O'Shea during the 2009 Connacht SFC Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

Aidan O’Shea recalled making his senior debut for Mayo against in Gaelic Park in 2009.

“The concrete jungle,” O’Shea said. “I remember it well. I remember my mother didn’t want me to go because I was doing my Leaving Cert but thankfully my father talked her around. I went out a day later than everybody else – not that it made any difference to my Leaving Cert.

“It was magic to be honest. There was no way I was going to miss the chance of making your debut in New York.

“When you’re 18 and you’re in school and you’ve been told that you’re going to make your debut in New York for Mayo, life was good.”

O’Shea bagged 1-3 against the Empire State as Mayo ran out 2-19 to 0-10 winners after an early scare – they trailed by four points at one stage in the first-half. The Breaffy man found it to be a surreal experience in Gaelic Park.

“It’s one of those games, it’s totally different to any other championship game you’ll play. There’s kind of a carnival atmosphere, there are barbecues, some people aren’t even watching the game, there’s a lot of noise and the band and the railway track. It is surreal.

A view of the Gaelic Park A train passes by Gaelic Park Ed Mulholland / INPHO Ed Mulholland / INPHO / INPHO

“You really just have to try and have a good start. The New York team are just kind of coming together – they won’t have as much work done as a Connacht team but if they sniff a bit of anxiety or they seem to get a bit of momentum, they’ll just feed off the crowd and everything just starts to build.

“Something similar to what happened to us in London and what happened to Roscommon in New York last year. You try to get out of the traps early and get the result beyond doubt before any of that happens.”

New York back up that performance by running Galway extremely close 12 months later.

A touch of genius from Pádraic Joyce was the difference as the Tribesmen held off a 13-man New York outfit to win by 2-13 to 0-12. It was a far closer game than the scoreline suggested.

Padraig Joyce and Brendan McGourty Padraig Joyce takes on Brendan McGourty of New York in 2010 Peter Marney / INPHO Peter Marney / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s so far removed from your normal championship preparation,” Michael Meehan later told the Mirror about that 2010 encounter.

“Their artificial pitch as well, I remember, was very warm, with the heat coming off the rubber. Your feet were burning after five minutes.

“I was coming back from injury at the time, and yeah (an upset) was very much on from early on in the first half. Pádraic Joyce was the difference that day and he picked up a couple of scores at the end.

“We had Joe Bergin, Padraic Joyce there, Matthew Clancy, lads who had been around the block and they were able to kind of bring everything around and swing things in our favour.”

With nine of last year’s starting 15 still involved, Justin O’Halloran will be hoping New York can repeat their feat of 2009-2010 and put in a strong display for a second straight year.

Ronan Gallagher and Niall Murphy Sligo's Niall Murphy will be absent on Sunday James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

This is shaping up as the biggest opportunity New York have ever had to win a game in the Connacht SFC. All the signs point towards a tight game: A depleted Sligo squad, a New York team littered with former inter-county players and a group who have the pain of last year’s agonising one-point loss to Roscommon still fresh on the minds.

They’ve also the benefit of playing a couple of productive challenge matches against Donegal in the last month.

On the other hand, Sligo are well aware of the danger this game poses, and Carew will ensure they don’t sleepwalk into an ambush.

A New York victory on Sunday would mean a sizable headache for the GAA. A preliminary round may have to be brought into the qualifiers to facilitate Sligo re-entering the championship, while it would mean a costly trip across the Atlantic at 10 days notice to play Mayo in the quarter-final.

But there’s a long way to go before that becomes a reality. History tells us otherwise, but Sunday could be a special day for New York GAA.

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