Big Apple to the very core
By John Riordan
Tuesday night training session in the Bronx. The whistle blows and powerful New York full forward CJ Molloy stiff arms his marker and shoves him away.
“That’s what you like to see,” chuckles his father Connie, his gentle Donegal accent barely impacted by 30 years in the US.
His passion for the game hasn’t dwindled either. Which isn’t unique, of course. Almost every expat develops a deeper grá for the Association the longer they’re exiled. It’s just that Molloy is one of those rare creatures who has decided to channel his passion in the correct way.
Much has been made this week of the four New York-born players who will line out tomorrow against Sligo as the All-Ireland football championship gets underway.
“The reason I got it into it this time around is that usually managers wouldn’t be giving these American-born kids a chance,” he told the Irish Examiner.
“Maybe out of fear that they haven’t grown up in the proper channels. But I’ve watched them develop and I know they’re very good, they’re very skilful. If we can get their feet wet on Sunday, maybe in a few years it’ll pay dividends and eventually we might even get to the point that there are more American-born players than Irish.”
The conveyor belt of underage development for which many individuals are responsible will provide the panel with seven native New Yorkers in total. Minor manager Eddie Hogan, who won an All-Ireland minor hurling medal with Tipperary alongside Nicky English and Ken Hogan, will have two of his sons starting, Conor and 17-year-old Shane. Possibly starting at full back will be another minor, Donnacha O’Dwyer, while, among the subs will be one of CJ’s friends, Del Ferreira, the talk of the town this week.
“We call him the greatest Portuguese player in the world,” laughs CJ about Ferreira who, while born in New York, has two parents from Portugal.
“Not a speck of Irish in him,” points out Connie. “He’s been playing five years or so, a buddy of CJ’s. He’s a fabulous athlete, one of these guys who just takes to anything. He’s very good.”
Before moving to New York in the 1980s to build a career as a carpenter, Molloy tasted what seemed like the pinnacle of success for a Donegal footballer. His club Ardara bridged a 59-year gap and won the county championship in 1981. His brother Anthony, 17 at the time, was injured that day. Little did either of them know that 11 years later, Anthony would captain the county team to a famous All-Ireland final victory.
It was a little before CJ’s time but it has become part of his upbringing in New York and he’s watched the footage many times. It was inevitable that of all his sporting talents, this would be the one he’d focus on.
“It was an easy decision to make for me,” CJ insists. “There are a lot of talented players coming through the system and we have sent good college teams across to Britain for tournaments.”
“Getting guys to commit is a big issue,” says Connie of his rebooted panel. “This is New York, bright city lights, this is one game on the sixth of May so it’s very hard to get the commitment. So in fairness to these guys, we had no drink ban until a couple of weeks ago. The social aspect of the thing here is a big issue. There are four or five top class footballers who should be here but they wouldn’t commit when training commenced in January and then they wanted to walk in three or four weeks ago. I just said ‘sorry lads, we’ve been going at for the last six-eight weeks, you’re not just walking into it now when you feel like it’.
“Sligo will come out here and no matter how poorly they’ve been playing, they still have a serious edge on us because they’re playing competitive league games, serious challenge games and Sigerson games. We don’t get that opportunity. Hopefully we can overcome all that and come out on the right side of a result.”
SLIGO: P Greene; N Ewing, N McGuire, R Donavan (capt); C Harrison, M Quinn, P McGovern; T Taylor, S McManus; B Egan, P Hughes, A Costello; S Coen, A Marren, M Breheny.
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