In the history annals discussion always centers around when the breakthrough came for clubs and counties.
For the mainstays -- Kilkenny, Kerry, Tipperary and Cork -- it was 100 or more years ago. For Galway hurling 1975 was a huge stepping stone, and 1991 to 1994 brought Ulster football into the driving force that it is today.
For manager Connie Molloy and his New York panel, the time is now. In his second year at the helm Molloy has had time to get the bugs out and have a game plan in place for the task at hand.
No stranger to tough tasks, his own club had a 59-year barren spell before they annexed the Donegal club title in 1980 after a loss in the final the year before. Molloy was man of the match on that glorious day.
On the Donegal panel at the time, he came to the U.S. in the early 1980s and played in Boston before lining out for New York in one of their most famous victories, the Gael Linn Cup title victory in 1983 in Ireland.
“There were some fantastic footballers on that team, Billy Morgan Aiden Wiseman, Sean Jones, Vincent Dennehy and John Brady to name a few. All were powerful players,” Molloy said during a conversation at Gaelic Park on a night of training recently.
Training is not the problem for New York as everyone knows; it is the lack of games that hurts.
“We have been training since before Christmas with the availability of a gym given to the players this year,” Molloy remarked.
Training under the tutelage of Mickey Coleman, a former All-Ireland winner, has been intense, and in a recent challenge match against a Cavan/New York combo side the fitness levels were very prominent.
With 33 players on the New York panel at the moment, including a number of American-born ones, full-fledged trail matches have been useful, and the battle for the final 15 slots will be a difficult one.
The number of former county panelists from Ireland on the New York squad this year is impressive, and the obstacle for Leitrim or its like is one that they have faced many times before.
Conor Lynam (Westmeath), Alan Raftery (Galway), Rory Woods (Monaghan), Lonan McGuire (New York), CJ Molloy (New York), Jason Kelly (Offaly) and Justin Burke (Galway) are all seasoned players at underage and senior level and give the New York side a center axis that will be prepared to play and run with the wolves.
The inter-link play of Kelly and Raftery will be vital. Both strong ball carriers, they can read the game and pin point passes to the inside lines. Kieran Scally is also a very positive wing back who loves to put the other side back on its heels with his speed.
The best form of defense is offense someone once said, and this side is built on possession and pressure. Gavin Joyce is a quality goaltender who reminds of Evan Byrne.
Mike Regan and Donnacha O’Dwyer are both viable options for the three slot, with tenacious defenders McGuire, Paul Lamb and Darren Jackson very capable wing men.
Last year’s captain Ronan McGinley will also be a possible starter. Scally will wear a half back shirt; he can play in any of the three berths, with Sean Kelly, Conor Hogan, Shane Hogan and Raftery all options in the line also.
Midfield is a conundrum that can be resolved. Gary Driscoll from Kerry was on the Kingdom panel for a period, and if available he will be a superb option. Molloy and his strength could also be used in this area.
The forward line has four real scoring threats in Kelly, Woods, Burke and Lynam. Justin Burke will have a brother and first cousin shooting for All-Ireland glory with the Galway under-21s. Ian and Daithi both have leading roles so a busy weekend for Ollie and Gerry’s lads; the dads were minor All-Ireland winners and former Connemara Gaels players for Jackie Salmon.
Others pushing for slots will be Liam Jennings, Richie Morgan and Danny Lehane. The starting line out may be along these lines -- Gavin Joyce, Paul Lamb, Mike Regan, Darren Jackson, Lonan McGuire, Alan Raftery, Kieran Scally, Gary O’Driscoll, CJ Molloy, Conor Hogan, Jason Kelly, Conor Lynam, Justin Burke, Rory Woods, Richie Morgan.
Leitrim are somewhat of an enigma this year. They won the FBD title and will return to New York in October for the final here, but then they had a mixed bag of tricks in the League. They ended up with a three win, four loss record.
Against London in their last outing they scraped by 1-11 to 1-9 with the line out of B. Flynn; S. McWeeney, F. McMorrow, P. Maguire; C. Clarke, P. Brennan, W. McKeon; T. Beirne (0-1), B. Brennan; G. Hickey, E. Mulligan (0-5), C. Reynolds (0-1); R. Lowe (0-2), J. Glancy (0-1), K. Conlon. Subs: C. Beirne (1-0) for Glancy, D. Beck for McWeeney, S. Moran for B. Brennan, R. Cox (0-1) for Conlon, B. Prior for Hickey.
The inter-county experience of that London team would compare favorably with the New York side of the moment, hence the thought process. Emlyn Mulligan is the captain this season. As the scoreline above shows is the main free taker and marksman.
He has been here before and is a strong on the ball player. Now playing his football in Dublin with St. Bridget’s, he is a former Melvin Gaels player.
James Clancy is another opportunist forward, with Cian Reynolds togging out for Leitrim New York last year. Another player who will make an old acquaintance is Sean McQueeney, who lined out for Astoria Gaels with Sean Kelly for two seasons. The chatting will be done after 5 p.m.!
Thomas Beirne is a very good midfielder while Wayne McKeon is their top defender for a number of seasons. One of the co-managers is Barney Breen, who also has New York in the history as he played for Frank Brady in 1993 and ‘94 on winning championship sides. He was also part of the Leitrim Connaught Championship side of ‘94.
It promises to be a fun filled day from a spectator standpoint as Leitrim normally brings a great crowd to the Mecca. They have been in the Connaught Championship since the beginning and have 13 titles in all grades while New York awaits its first victory.
The time is now. History has a habit of happening in the unlikeliest of places!
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