It’s always been Leitrim for New York. Always. They may have given Galway and Roscommon frights in recent times but from the moment they entered the Connacht Championship, Leitrim have been regarded as the Exiles’ greatest chance of making history.
It is largely due to do with size and the belief stems back to 2003 when Leitrim required a couple of points in the second half of extra-time to avoid being on the wrong side of history.
Their following two performances in Gaelic Park have been anything but shaky but the stench of that game 15 years ago has followed them each occasion they have landed in JFK.
Dismiss that, if you will, as romance but then there are reasons to be hopeful this decade, namely the one-point reverse against Roscommon two years ago.
Three years ago, New York were daring to dream they could be as awkward for Galway as they had been in 2010 when Joe Kernan was delighted to escape from the Big Apple with a seven-point win, augmented by a late Cormac Bane goal.
They led by a point with almost 20 minutes gone before Galway moved up the gears and claimed a comfortable 16-point victory.
Former Wexford forward PJ Banville scored seven points that day when he sincerely believed Galway could have been toppled. “I thought we had a great chance and we could have beaten a lot of teams. I reckon if we were exposed to the same games that Galway had then we would have been a lot closer. It’s different.
“When you’re over there, you think you’re flying and you’re the same as the teams at home and you can train as hard as you want but when you’re not playing games you can’t judge yourself. I thought we were going well in 2015 but then you realise you’re kidding yourself a bit because you haven’t been playing games week-in and week-out.
“I can say that in ’15 when Ian Galvin was over the team the preparation was just as good as at home. It would be great to see New York doing something because I know there’s a lot of people in the background who put a huge amount of effort in.
There may only be three or four survivors from the New York side Banville featured on but he keeps in touch with some of his former colleagues such as Keith Scally and his fellow Wexford man Kevin O’Grady starts in Justin O’Halloran’s half-forward line tomorrow.
After five straight defeats which totalled 102 points in aggregate, Banville gets a read from his phone-calls and WhatsApp messages that hope has been replaced by expectation in the city’s GAA circles. “I presume Leitrim are giving New York a lot of respect and it’ll be a case of getting over there, getting the job and getting out for them. But it’s not as easy said as done.
"If they get bet people won’t be surprised but if they win they will create history. I do think they have a great chance. After being there in 2015, you get the sense that the players are buying into the whole thing and there’s that sense of belief.
“I’m giving New York a great chance. When you look at the likes of Jamie Clarke and then there’s Kevin Brady who would make a lot of inter-county teams. He was probably our best player in Wexford last year. Tom Cunniffe, Luke Kelly… its a great team on the paper.
“On paper, if this game was in Ireland I think this New York team would win eight, nine out of 10 times. The likes of Leitrim in Division 4 this year, they’ve been getting proper games on a regular basis. New York, they played Corofin who flew over that day so you don’t know where they are at. I think the lack of games is the only thing that is hurting them this year because there is so much quality in that New York team.”
Jamie Clarke is obviously the name on most people’s lips and Banville knows the likes of him and Kelly will revel on the artificial surface of Gaelic Park. “With the surface, there is a big difference and certain players won’t love it but for me I love a summer’s day and the ground is hard — that’s championship football. You’ve other players who don’t like it that way. Jamie Clarke will thrive on a pitch like this. They need a big game from him on Sunday if they are to win and I’ve no doubt he will have a big game. He could be the difference in getting them over the line.”
NEW YORK: V Cadden; N Collins, D Ward, C Keane; E Williams, T Cunniffe, M Queenan; D Culhane, S Hogan; T Donnelly, J Clarke, L Kelly; K O’Grady, D McDonagh, D Freeman.
Subs: K Fitzgibbons, J Collins, M Creegan, K Connolly, M Boyle, D McKenna, A Cunningham, P Boyle, K Scally, JJ Matthews, C Connolly.
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