New York’s Shane Horgan reaches for a high ball in the game against Mayo held at Gaelic Park on May 5, 2019. [Inpho/Andy Marlin]

Recent NY history favors Mayo

The Connacht Championship kicks off on Sunday at Gaelic Park. By any rational analysis this pairing would appear to have the hallmarks of a mismatch. In the parlance of the pugilist it would seem like a heavy-weight against a light-weight. 

Mayo were the National League champions in 2023 and they have won two of the last five finals in that category. Further accentuating their superiority is the indisputable fact that they are the best team in Connacht, and would have been ranked the second-best team in the country for most of a generation.  They were involved in 10 All-Ireland finals, unfortunately continually just coming up marginally short on these penultimate occasions. 

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Granted their national ranking may have sunk a bit based on this year’s league performance. Still they recorded four victories at the expense of Dublin, Galway, Roscommon and Monaghan. They suffered three loses namely to Kerry, Tyrone and Derry. Yet despite three loses, they had impressive scores in the loser’s column, while their biggest loss was to Derry, 3-15 to 2-13. Mayo’s biggest victory was against Galway, 2-12 to 0-10, while their narrowest loss was to Kerry, 0-16 to 0-15. 

New York don’t participate in the National League, but if they did they’d be classified as a Division 4 team, so in essence you have a team from the bottom division competing against a team from the top division. That situation in sports generally does not lead to bone fide competition. The infamous Oliver Cromwell and one of the most despised characters in Irish history, issued the dictum, “To hell or to Connacht” during his 17th-century campaign in Ireland. Well, it’s certainly been hell for New York in Connacht each time that they have engaged Mayo over the last quarter of a century. Incidentally such disparity in performance between these teams has not always been the norm. 

Just 40 years ago, in the 1984 Centennial Competition played in Ballina, New York had a comprehensive victory over Mayo 2-9 to 0-6.  The Big Apple’s roster included a few with All-Irelands plus a solid phalanx of players with considerable intercounty experience. In that Irish depressive economic era, a steady flow of talented players ended up in New York. On that squad were: Billy Morgan(Cork), Tom Colleran(Mayo), John Brady(RIP, NY), Vincent Dennehy(Cavan) ,Paddy Gormley(Leitrim), Aidan Weisman(Louth), Des Dillon(Longford), Pat Carroll(NY), Tom Ross(RIP,Cork), John O’Connor(Roscommon), Fran Ryder(Dublin), Connie Molloy, Lanty Molloy, Charlie Mulgrew(all Donegal), Sean Coyle(Tyrone), Sean Jones(Fermanagh), Paddy Crozier(Derry),Kieran Power(Waterford), Sean Brosnan(Kerry), and Murt Dillon(Clare). The team was managed by Mike Cassidy(RIP, Cavan), affably known as “Big Cass”, and the trainer was Dessie Ryan(Tyrone). Listed as goal-scorers were Charlie Mulgrew and Kieran Power, while named as  chief point scorers were John O’Connor, aka “Jigger”, Connie Molloy, Fran Ryder and Pat Carroll. Aidan Weisman was named as Man of the Match. 

This also happens to be the 25th year of New York’s participation in the Connacht Championship. Support for entry into Connacht was based on the fact that New York had beaten London in an International Emigrant Tournament in 1998.  New York’s first championship game in 1999 was against Mayo in Castlebar. New York’s preparations went well, which included a match with Boston and a two-game series against the Irish army team. The team flew out more than a week in advance of the game having arranged a challenge match with Clare to help adapt to Irish playing conditions. Well, as the Scottish poet Robert Burns so elegantly wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” That definitely was the outcome from the challenge with the Banner County as three Big Apple players in pivotal positions sustained injuries that prohibited them from lining out against Mayo a week later. The scoreboard will show that Mayo won comfortably by 3-13 to 0-11. It was a disastrous first half for New York, but despite a much better and spirited second half, the deficit was still too great to be overcome. The stats will show that Mayo’s chief scorers were Maurice Sheridan, Cathal McManaman, David Nestor, Brian Maloney and Seamus Horan, while Mickey Slowey, Willie O’Donnell, Kevin Cassidy, Kiernan Keaveney and Edmund Cleary were New York’s flag-raisers. 

Still, despite the comprehensive defeat, New York had three players selected on the Irish Independent’s team of the week: Mickey Slowey(Monaghan), Pat Mahoney(Cork), and Neville Dunne(Meath) The FBD league was wound up in 2011 with Mayo hitting the net seven times against New York, 7-12 to 2-8. The big scorers were Alan Freeman(2-4), Cillian O’Connor(2-1), Aidan O’Shea(2-0), Enda Varley(1-2) and Seamus O’Shea(0-2). Interestingly three of these players are still productive after 13 years in the green and red jerseys.  

Three years later, 2014 in the championship, the walloping continued, 4-18 to 0-8.  Cillian O’Connor was Man of the Match with 2-5, while among others in the scoring column were Enda Varley(1-1), Diarmuid O’Connor(1-0), and Andy Moran(0-3). Raising flags for the Big Apple were Jason Kelly, Brendan Quigley, Johnny McGeeney, Keith Quinn, Ross Wherity, Alan Raftery and Gary O’Driscoll.  The last meeting between these teams five years ago saw New York lose by 21 points, 1-22 to 0-4, with the score being 1-15 to 0-2 at the half. Mayo’s frequent scorers were Evan Regan(1-5), Fergal Boland(0-4), James Carr(0-2), Jason Doherty(0-2) and Kevin McLoughlin(0-2). New York’s scorers were Luke Kelly(0-2), Daniel McKenna(0-1) and Kevin Finn(0-1). Another statistic from this game clearly indicates the stability  of one team against the variability of the other. Currently there are still eight to nine players from that Mayo team performing regularly, among whom are the O’Connors, Diarmuid and Cillian, the O’Sheas, Seamus and Aidan, Patrick Durcan, Mathew Ruane, Fergal Boland and Darren Coen. On the New York side the only survivor is Tiernan Mathers. 

Naturally there were scenes of great jubilation in Gaelic Park last year when New York finally made the breakthrough in the Connacht Championship by beating Leitrim on penalties after the teams were tied at 0-15 after extra time.  While this was a great team effort, three players were singled out for their exceptional efforts, namely keeper Mick Cunningham for his shot-stopping, fullback Alan Campbell for his timely interceptions and Mikey Brosnan for sealing the deal with his well-struck penalty. The victory was not exactly a total surprise as the Big Apple Boys had come amazingly close in recent times, not just against Leitrim but also to Sligo and Roscommon. Now that the victory propelled New York into the Connacht semifinal, it was expected that this would be a great confidence-booster and a platform for further success. However they slumped badly to Sligo on a score of 2-16 to 0-6.

Now that New York are scheduled to take on their most dominant opponent, Mayo, in this year’s championship, the obvious question is, will it be the usual lob-sided encounter, or  is it a case of the principle of insanity, namely do the same thing and expect a different result. Well at the outset there are a lot of changes this year. Johnny McGeeney and his management team’s reign have ended, and is replaced with a totally new outfit. Alan O’Mara, the former Cavan player and author, takes over the management reins, and his backroom team includes Ronan McGinley, Mick Cunningham, Jeff Farrell, David McNamara and Dean O’Donnell, while Sean Kelly and Sinead Burns will be involved in promoting strength, conditioning and rehabilitation of players.  

Over the years New York has been noted for a big turnover in players. That’s definitely the case this year as 10 players from last year’s starting 15 are gone plus another 7 from the panel are also not available. The main reasons stated for such an exodus include, relocation, job requirements, injuries, retirements and inability to give the time commitment that current inter-county football demands. Despite the mass exit of players, management has got a great commitment from 40 players who have been training consistently since December, three times a week. Listed on that panel of players are:   Adam Nolan, Adam Stones, Brendan Cole, Brian Coughlin, Caillin O’Rourke, Caolain Mathers, Cian O’Dea, Conor Mathers, Danny Corrigan, Dylan Curran, Emmett Loughrin, Emmett O’Connghaile, Frank O’Reilly, Israel Ilunga, Jack Reilly, James Wash, Jamie Boyle, Jamie Davis, Joey Grace, Jordan Ajani, Kevin Rafferty, Killian Butler, Kyle Higgins, Liam Kearney, Michael Argue, Mikey Boyle, Mikey Brosnan, Niall McCarthy, Oisin Mathers, Pearce Willis, Peter Fox, Rob Wharton, Rory Duggan, Ryan Corrigan, Sean Conroy, Sean Reilly, Shane Bolger, Shane Brosnan, Tadgh O’Riordan and Tiarnan Mathers. 

Obviously with such a large panel, management is killing two birds with one stone as New York will also field a junior team at a later date. It’s also notable that many panelists are products of the Minor Board. Training has been reported to have gone very well and of course with a very mild winter, there were few interruptions. Preparations of teams can usually be summed up with the attributes starting with “s”, namely stamina, speed, strength, skill and strategy. It’s relatively easy to assess and promote the first three, but without regular games it’s difficult to monitor the latter two, and this is where New York are at a decided disadvantage.  At this stage the truncated panel has not been announced, and it will be very different to last year’s.  

The bookmakers are predicting a Mayo win by a double digit margin. So  New York’s chances of an upheaval are slim, but these young players won’t lack for passion and effort, and perhaps positive results will be attained with the other Connacht teams in the years ahead.