Leitrim braced for New York ambush

Leitrim fans waiting on subway in New York.

The Leitrim footballers will always fear losing to New York, selector Seamus Quinn has admitted.

Sunday’s quarter-final at Gaelic Park marks the fourth Connacht championship meeting between the counties, Leitrim having come out on top in 2003, ‘08 and ‘13.

New York joined the province in 1999 and are still searching for their first championship win 19 summers later.

They ran Roscommon to a point in 2016 (1-15 to 0-17) and given who’s visiting this weekend, there’s been plenty of reminiscing about their 2003 clash with Leitrim, the sole occasion a New York outfit brought a team to extra-time.

Selector Quinn, an All-Star winner in 1994, was at centre-forward that afternoon in the Bronx and says they were extremely fortunate to win.

The hosts were on course for a famous victory when leading by a point in the closing stages of regulation time, Pádraig McLoughlin kicking the equaliser to level the tie at 0-10 apiece. The visitors won after extra-time - 0-14 to 0-12

“It was one of the most physical games I ever played in because New York just wanted to get a scalp of a Connacht team,” recalls Quinn.

“It was played on the old surface in Gaelic Park, the baseball corner. We went to extra-time and, to be honest, we were lucky to get it there. I remember getting a red card at the end of it.”

Former Armagh captain Jamie Clarke featured for the Exiles during a recent challenge game win over All-Ireland club champions Corofin and Quinn knows there’s been talk of an ambush on Sunday.

“We’re well aware of what we’re facing into. They have Jamie, Kevin O’Grady from Wexford, a couple of lads from Roscommon, Donal Ward and Neil Collins. Tom Cunniffe is with them, so they have county players with lots of experience.

Leitrim will always have that [fear]. It’s not an easy place to go to. They are looking at Leitrim as one of the weakest counties in Connacht so they’ll be saying, this is their chance. They are well prepared. Enda Williams is their trainer and I’d know one of their selectors, Gerry Fox from Longford. There’s a lot of experience there.

Leitrim’s preparation for their provincial opener wasn’t helped by playing only five of their seven Division 4 fixtures.

Their round six game against Waterford fell foul of the weather and was never rescheduled, despite both counties being agreeable to meet. Their round five game against London was also postponed, with Leitrim then handing London a walkover rather than travel to Ruislip.

“When they were pulled, it was disappointing. I don’t know was it the fact that it was a Division 4 competition but we were thinking if it was a Division 1 game, it would have been played.

"The weaker counties aren’t getting a fair crack of the whip. We needed those games more than London and Waterford needed them.”

Since the introduction of the backdoor in 2001, Leitrim have managed just two qualifier wins. Quinn believes a two-tier championship structure could serve the weaker counties well.

“Everyone wants to play for the Connacht championship and Sam Maguire. Fellas have to be realistic too. Are we ever going to compete with Dublin, Kerry? Population is a factor. Mayo, Galway have populations. Everyone wants to play for the championship, but a two-tier probably would work.

“You have players drifting off because they see no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Elsewhere, Luke Nicholson and Liam Gaughan will make their championship debuts for Sligo in their quarter-final away to London.

SLIGO (Connacht SFC v London):

A Devaney; R Donovan, L Nicholson, C Harrison; G O’Kelly Lynch, A McIntyre, N Ewing; K McDonnell, N Murphy; C Henry, C Breheny, P Hughes; L Gaughan, A Marren, K Cawley.

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