The Connacht championship is upon us, and the first round of the All-Ireland championship.
This year sees the return of Sligo to the Big Apple and another date with destiny.
In their last visit to New York Sligo ran away with a 2-18 to 1-3 victory. A brutal day for the home side, with very little spark except for a Ronan Garvey goal and an excellent Vinnie Gavin point. All else that day was a disaster for the home side.
A number of New York players are still active in the championship here, including Ken O’Connor, Robbie Moran, Alan Foley, Sean Munnelly, Gavin, Garvey and Dan Doona. None are on this year’s New York panel, however, for a variety of reasons.
The rumor mill is rife, but according to reports only Doona of the above names was invited in and he withdrew a number of weeks ago.
This year’s panel is a very young one, with a number of American-born players being given their chances for the first time.
Based on recent challenge games one thing is clear -- the panel is fit as it has been run through its paces by Mickey Coleman, the former Tyrone All-Ireland winner.
The side for New York will be captained by Ronan McGinley. The Cavan player is in his second year on the panel, and he has been very consistent over the year. He may be at corner back on Sunday, or perhaps at number six.
Alan Hearty has the one slot locked down. A brilliant shot stopper, he is, as they say in baseball, a five tool player. He probably would be on the Armagh panel at home but for the form of his brother Paul.
Stuart Stokes and Caolan Short of Armagh are others pushing for defensive slots, while Paul Lambe of Cavan and Sean Kelly of Monaghan should also be in defensive slots based on current form. Donnacha O’Dwyer is also a contender for a defensive role.
The Hogan brothers, Conor and Shane, are also on the panel, with Conor talked of as a wing back contender. He played very well for the New York side that went to England as a defender. Shane may contend at wing forward.
The middle of the field is lacking a bona fide big man. Eoghan Carew, who played in an All-Ireland junior final recently with his native Kildare, seems to have one slot, while Rory Stafford, a late addition to the squad, or Brian Sweeney possibly getting at the area.
The forward line took a heavy hit when Paddy Smith went down injured last week. PJ Flanagan was also dropped which took away options.
CJ Molloy of Donegal, one would assume, will be at full forward with Darren Moore in one corner. Eoin Hogan of Kerry, Mike Kennedy and Declan Reilly of Dublin and Padraig King may also get starting roles. Sean Kinahane Cork is an option in a number of spots.
The New York lineout may be this -- Hearty, Stokes, McGinley, Lambe, Hogan, Kelly, Short, Carew, Stafford, Hogan, Kennedy, Reilly, Moore, Molloy, Hogan.
Sligo has a number of the players who performed last time still available. Phil Greene is a very capable keeper with a Connaught tile and League medals on his resume.
It is eight years since Charlie Harrison played here for Mayo, and he has captained his home county since as well, getting nominated for all-stars.
Noel McGuire is a 6’2” full back with a long career, while Johnny Davey, Ross Donovan and Mark Quinn are others who will man the back line.
In a recent league win 1-12 to 0-12 over Roscommon, Eugene Mullin and Tony Taylor were in the middle of the field.
One slot may change as Eamonn O’Hara is back on the panel and fit again. The old warhorse just might get the call.
The scores up front will come mainly from Adrian Marron and Mark Breheny, who had six points in the win in 2007. Marron came on in that game with 0-3. They contributed 1-3 and 0-3 respectively against the Rosses, with Marron in his prime at 28 while his fellow attacker is still only 31.
All in all Sligo will be a very formidable opponent.
With the inexperience of New York despite their fitness, it is hard to envision the game being close at the end. The injury to Tomo Smith takes away the explosiveness in the forward line.
The luxury of seven league games and a number of FBD contests are match practice that is never similar in New York. It is a tough assignment, but heart is a very huge factor.