This game for the Sean Armstrong Memorial Cup was supposed to be played two years ago, but Covid intervened and the game had to be postponed. 

The late Sean Armstrong was very much involved in the New York GAA scene in the 1980s as he captained the Hartford team to a junior championship title in 1988. Later upon returning to Galway, he was a major tour de force in playing, coaching, and training teams across the age spectrum. 

Sadly, Armstrong passed away in 2019, and thus was conceived the idea of having a memorial tournament involving New York and Salthill, two areas that were a major part of the Armstrong family’s sporting and social life.

The game finally got underway on March 18 at Gaelic Park. The weather was ideal and a good crowd was on hand as a highly entertaining and exciting game unfolded with the issue in doubt down to the final minute.

New York started impressively as a timely sequence of deft passes resulted in Adrian Varley hitting the opening score in the first minute. New York remained in the driver’s seat as Ger McCullagh, Peter Fox, Mikey Brosnan, and Stephen Monaghan were excelling in the early exchanges as their fitness and support play had the Galwegians stretched defensively. Center back Keelan Beirne sallied swiftly down the middle but his effort drifted wide. Then a bout of tenacious tackling set the scene for New York’s second point as Fox capitalized on a turnover to score.

Five minutes had elapsed before Salthill found their bearings and almost the net. New York nearly paid the price for deploying so many upfront as a long ball from Donal Hunt, who had a powerful game, found Michael Kitt lurking behind the New York defense, but his palmed effort fell outside the post as keeper Cunningham advanced off his line.

Apart from the early defensive snafu, Alan Campbell, the former long-serving Tipp fullback, gave a competent and confident performance. Salthill continued to attack but all they had to show were three wides before the captain Gearoid Armstrong turbo-charged his way from midfield and rode several hefty tackles before landing an inspirational score after eleven minutes.

Still, New York were dominating the possession stakes. A long ball to target man Johnny Glynn looked destined for the net but it was parried brilliantly by keeper Nevelle.

Despite monopolizing possession, the New York scoreboard remained static as shots were missed or were short of the target, plus full-forward Glynn had another goal-bound effort go agonizingly wide outside the post after a nice bout of support play. On the 20-minute mark, wingback Dan O’Sullivan landed a fine point, and this newcomer to the Big Apple GAA scene would go on to have a very productive outing. 

Salthill were stepping up their performances, especially John Maher and Mickey Culhane as their chief attacker Hunt got their second point, and it was quickly followed by another from Paddy Kitt to leave the scores level with 10 minutes left in the half.

Salthill then jumped ahead courtesy of a well-executed goal from Ultan Sheerin. Owen Deeley extended the lead to four points after a patient buildup. 

New York rallied back with another fine point from winger O’Sullivan, and Niall Madine entered the fray and made his presence felt immediately with a point. As the period wore on, the exchanges were much more evenly balanced as Hunt slotted over a free and Aiden Halloran chipped in from the corner. 

New York finished with a brace. Connell Ahearn had the first and O’Sullivan the second to leave Salthill leading by 1-6 to 0-7 at the break. These two players look like valuable additions to the squad.

Manager Johnny McGeeney opted for two different lineouts so as to give every member of the panel a half. New York had considerably more possession than their opponents; unfortunately, the scoreboard didn’t reflect it. 

Obviously, New York has to adopt a more optimal shot selection as well as engage in a more penetrative or incisive approach once inside the fifty-yard mark. Too much lateral movement enables the defense to clog the scoring channels.

New York had a powerful start to the second half as they totally dominated the third quarter to put five unanswered points on the board. Madine continued to be a solid target man as he made a mark and duly slotted over a point. Jack Reilly entered the fray and seemed to thrive in the action, as did Eric Monahan and Tony Donnelly. The trio soon had three points on the board.

New York were also doing well defensively as Scally, Reilly, Hogan, and company were all driving forward. An incisive run by Peter Cronin set up Conor Mathers for a point.

Midway, Salthill trailed by three points, and true to their name, the Pirates were not ready to go away empty-handed. A pointed free from Hunt steadied the ship and another after Paddy Culhane claimed a mark had the Galwegians coasting. 

Then came the best score of the game, a goal from the man of the match, Hunt, to put his team on the crest of the wave. Aiden Halloran added another to give his team a four points lead with just 10 minutes left on the clock. 

New York battled back as Reilly hit three and a powerful strike from Dylan McDermott had the teams level and the crowd on their feet with just three minutes left on the clock. The exchanges were now hectic as both sides scrambled to get over the line.

Michael Kitt got his team back in front, but New York had a chance to level up but the free just drifted outside the post. Then as time ticked away Salthill played a very judicious game of keep the ball so as to maintain their slender but crucial lead. 

Sean Armstrong Memorial Cup. Well done to SKGAA on their win against @official_newyorkgaa A great match and a tight result. #skgaaabú #newyorkgaa

Posted by Salthill Knocknacarra GAA Club on Saturday, March 19, 2022

The trophy was presented by Annette Armstrong, spouse of the late Sean, to Gearoid Armstrong, the captain and also her son. She thanked both clubs for hosting the game, and especially all those who traveled from Ireland as well as family and friends of the Armstrong family who came from Hartford, Long Island and Pennsylvania. 

Gearoid said they would like to come back to defend their title next year. I’m sure New York would love to have them back and of course exact revenge. He also said he was quite happy not to be bringing the plaque home with him, euphemistically it was labeled a commemorative emblem, but really it was a consolation piece for the vanquished. 

Though New York didn’t win, I’m sure management will be quite pleased with some aspects of the performance, especially the fitness, the possession, the support play, some of the scores, and the overall discipline. It was a very useful workout as New York prepare for their Connacht Championship game with Sligo in a few weeks.

It’s difficult for management to assess progress from in-house scrimmages. However, the tipping points were capitalizing on bona fide goal opportunities. Galway got three, took two, while New York created two, but netted none.

Critics or cynics will be quick to point out that the opponents were just a club team. True, but a very formidable one, backboned by a phalanx of intercounty caliber players and of course managed by one of the best in the business, John O’Mahoney. 

The chairman of the Salthill club, Alan Mulholland, is also a former Galway star. He presented New York GAA Chairwoman Joan Henchy with a Salthill Knocknacarra jersey, and Joan reciprocated with a New York jersey memorializing September 11. 

Overall a very competitive and entertaining game of football and judiciously officiated by referee Peter McCormack. 

Salthill Knocknacarra: Rory Lavelle, David Kiely, Eoin McFadden, Willie Finnerty, Eoin Deeley, David Connaughton, Gearoid Armstrong (capt.), John Maher, Mickey Culhane, Ultan Sheerin, Donal Hunt, Paddy Kitt, Robert Walzer, Michael Kitt, Aiden Halloran. Subs: Jack Killeen, Gavin Duffy, Conor O’Driscoll, Rory McTiernan, Paddy Culhane, Tom Morris, Finian Hanley, Sean Armstrong.

New York (1): Mick Cunningham, Brendan Cole, Jamie Boyle (capt.), Alan Campbell, Colin Keane, Jamie Davis, Keelan Beirne, Dan O’Sullivan, Stephen Monaghan, Peter Fox, Ger McCullagh, Adrian Varley, Connell Ahern, Tiernan Mathers, Johnny Glynn, Mikey Brosnan. Replacements: Stephen Curley, Dylan McDermott, Danny Corridan, Paul Kelly, Shane Hennessy. 

New York (2): Brendan Cole, Vinnie Cadden, Conor Hogan, Keith Scally, Peter Cronin, Conor Mathers, Alan Dunne, Dylan Curran, Shane Brosnan, Sean Reilly, Kevin Loane, Jack Reilly, Ollie McLean, Eric Monahan, Niall Madine, Tony Donnelly. 

Man of Match: Donal Hunt.

Referee: Peter McCormack.

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