Picture the scene this Sunday. It’s 4.45pm New York time and David Gough’s whistle confirms the shock. New York have beaten Sligo to confound their 5/1 odds, which would have been much lower, you would imagine, had Jamie Clarke not returned from there to Armagh.
However, he is not missed as for the first time since they entered Connacht in 1999 New York are not just a busman’s holiday, no longer the soft launch of the championship, but winners.
The Sligo men are on their knees. The bewildered congratulate their opponents. Some prefer to hide their heads in their hands. Manager Niall Carew doesn’t know where to look. The Sligo ex-pats don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Sure, the travelling party had expected a game — didn’t Roscommon escape with their lives 12 months previously? — but not this. Never this.
Their agony is drowned out by the unadulterated jubilation. Gaelic Park has seen several bloody May massacres over the years, sprinkled with the odd moral victory, such as the seven-point loss to Galway in 2010 and last year’s oh-so-close one-point defeat to Roscommon.
Of all travelling parties from Connacht, next to Leitrim the Exiles would always have fancied themselves against Sligo, but the visitors always seemed to have more than enough for them; 24 point winners in 2012, 18 in ’07, and eight in ’02, but on this occasion, they have been bested.
Carew is missing three players due to exam commitments and Niall Murphy with a hamstring problem, but he makes no excuses.
“There’s no point complaining,” he shrugs. “We lost because we weren’t good enough.” There are no questions about his future. Something so negative would cheapen a momentous occasion.
His counterpart Justin O’Halloran, after he has composed himself, highlights the value of last month’s challenge games against Donegal. He also mentions the importance of retaining six of last year’s team, plus being able to call on others like Donegal’s Ross Wherity, who lined out in previous seasons.
It’s fitting that Cavan man O’Halloran, 43, is the man to lead New York to this success. He was a selector in 2010, when Joe Kernan’s Galway were given the fright of their lives, as he was in charge when Roscommon were doing Novenas to come away from the Bronx still in the provincial competition.
Last year, he spoke before the game about confidence.
“A minute to go and we are five points up, that’s what we’ve been breeding into them for the last three months.”
And here they delivered.
“They visualised, they believed, and they were good to the word,” he says, amid hoots and backslaps, to a small pool of freelance journalists, who are just as gleeful of the result, as it will prompt a barrage of demands for copy through the week.
Captain and Down man Gerard McCartan, who first played for New York in 2014, says he can’t put the feeling into words. Former Dublin hurler Danny Sutcliffe can, comparing the sensation to claiming a Leinster title in 2013.
Wicklow’s Conor McGraynor, the bane of the Sligo full-back line, likens it to giantkilling Dublin.
Social media has moved from disbelief and congratulations to the ramifications of the result.
After umpteen enquiries, the GAA release a statement confirming an existing provision: Sligo will face one of the teams that fail to reach their provincial semi-final in a preliminary qualifier in what will be the first of its kind.
What about New York, though? They are scheduled to face Mayo in a Connacht quarter-final in Castlebar on May 21, but because of the visa difficulties facing some of the panel in returning home, there is a threat of forfeiture.
Mayo, though, cognisant of their strong links with the US, agree with the Connacht Council and Croke Park that the game be played in Gaelic Park.
The decision is universally applauded. The GAA are giving back to a part of the world they haven’t been afraid to tap for finances. Success story breeds success story and the world feels alright at least for a little while.
GAA will feel the loss of Newstalk
“What is Brian Cody’s secret? JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh, and Aidan Fogarty join us on tomorrow’s Saturday Panel from 1” read the tweet from Newstalk’s Off The Ball. If you groaned, you weren’t alone.
Truly, only David Herity has given any insight into the great man and, because of it, Cody mightn’t be too warm with him the next time they meet if they haven’t already.
These three men weren’t going to offend him. Sure enough, they didn’t, but as unpromising as the idea sounded, listening to the Ger Gilroy-headed discussion made the car journey from Tullamore to Dublin last Saturday evening so short.
The three men grew confidence in their own company and that of Gilroy’s to give such excellent insight into what made them men of men and the immense team they were.
What we mightn’t have gleaned about Cody, we learned of the three men, particularly the ribbing and banter, which bonded them. Delaney and Fogarty were excellent, but Walsh’s sheer love for the game resonated most, as evidenced by the joy he took in beating the “A” team in a training game when he was no longer favoured to start in his final season in 2014.
We have heard before of how Cody has broken his teams to players, but by now the flipchart in the O’Carroll Stand is the most famous in GAA.
It’s typical of Newstalk to make something that seems ambitious work. For years, they sold us off-Broadway provincial games as if they were on Broadway and, more often than they should have, convinced.
The GAA shouldn’t have been happier.
The best of luck to RTÉ in trying to do the same as they take on the 22 games Newstalk previously covered. It’s a difficult task, but also a difficult act to follow.
From GAA to AAA
The mark has been heralded by some as a success. If that’s what you call a whistled catch in the middle third from a kick-out then it most surely is, though we can’t for certain say the art of high fielding has proliferated, not when any clean fetch between the 45m from a restart is deemed a mark.
Some say it has been a seamless addition to the game, but without rewarding high fielding above any other kind of catching or curbing short kick-outs, it is not going to make any great impact.
The playing rules committee seem to be in favour of introducing a rule for the latter, which can be supported, as it hits at the “safety first” approach that has consumed Gaelic football.
However, the idea of an “offensive mark”, as suggested by Colm Parkinson, is exactly that: Offensive.
The former Laois player explained to playing rules chief Jarlath Burns on sportsjoe.ie that a ball kicked from outside the 45m line and caught inside the 20m line would entitle the fielding player to have a free shot at goal.
Burns liked the idea: “It’s a great idea and one that I 100% agree with. I think if we have a full year of the [kick-out] mark working really well, it’s something we could look at for next year.”
So, there you have it: The mark as we know it now is shaping up to be the thin end of the wedge.
What we know as Gaelic threatens to become Australian. Next thing, jerseys will be sleeveless, only hops will count in solos and points will be awarded for wides.
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