Action from the New York versus Mayo game at Gaelic Park. Inpho photo.
By P.J. Cunningham
In spring, a young man’s fancy likely turns to thoughts of love but in summer, it’s the championship that supersedes all emotions for Irish sports lovers the world over.
On Sunday, May 5, New York and London had the distinction of hosting the first two salvoes into the GAA’s 2019 series by welcoming Mayo and Galway respectively to the Bronx and Ruislip.
The fact that neither home side was successful in winning the match is hardly relevant though it must be said London put up a really brave performance. What mattered more was the Irish people living in exile were able to experience firsthand the start of the race for Sam Maguire.
These matches are “finals” in themselves. Indeed, I believe the GAA should put up trophies in both New York and London for these games so that in the case of the home teams, they are also playing for something more tangible than gallant losers’ tags.
However, this summer, I am expecting both Galway and Mayo to be big players in the business end of a championship that will either see Dublin complete an unprecedented five-in-a-row or fail a la Kerry in 1982.
Galway have the potential if their management team overcomes their own inferiority complexes to stage a real battle at bringing Sam back West of the Shannon for the first time since they themselves last won the cherished vessel in 2001 when they hammered Meath by 0-17 to 0-8.
With a plethora of young lads blooded in the league and a number of top players like Damian Comer and Pádraig Conroy returning from injury, they have sufficient arrows in their quiver to hit the bulls-eye.
Mind you, they didn’t cover themselves in glory against London but then most teams will find Ruislip a hard place to go to – and Galway will be the better for living through such a hard opening challenge.
Like the Tribesmen, Mayo have uncovered good young additions to their squad with the likes of Matthew Ruane, Fionn McDonagh, Ciaran Treacy and Michael Plunkett.
They can also factor in the fact that the likes of Tom Parsons is making rapid progress Manager James Horan has a veritable cornucopia of talent at his disposal.
I think we saw the intent in Gaelic Park where it was evident players were playing for places. They did what good teams do: they killed off any hope of an upset early, and then proceeded to build on their work.
Meanwhile, Dublin will do what Dublin do best at this time of year – disappear off the radar.
They will emerge to use Leinster as a training ground to hone their sights for the Big 8 and subsequent big battles.
Right now, they are the team to beat and with the first week of the championship over, the five-in-a-row is theirs to lose.