Not since the Irish Rover set sail from Cork in 1806 with her cargo of bricks has there been such an exodus of young men from the one parish to the bright lights of New York.

The excitement is building both home and abroad in advance of the Shane Ui Neills clubmen from Co Antrim’s visit on Friday, May 3.

The last time there was such a major spotlight on New York GAA was back in 1947 when the All-Ireland football final was played at the Polo Grounds in New York, with Cavan beating Kerry.  

Some say the level of planning and organization to get the men from Feystown to touch down in JFK meant that New Yorker Larry McCarthy had to give up his coveted position of Uachtaraín earlier this year to assist with the logistics and persuade the Glensmen to travel.

This flying visit from the men from Pairc Fearsaithe was the brainchild of ex-Shane Ui Neill player Kevin McKay, who himself left the parish over two decades ago for a life in New York State, although the main mover and shaker behind the scenes was that man Pat Hamill from the Braid.

There hasn’t been a contact or network that hasn’t been scouted out, or a friend of a friend that hasn’t been approached by Pat to make this inaugural trip happen and to make it the journey of a lifetime for all concerned.

The Shane Ui Neill men have had a mixed start to their Division II league campaign this year, which has only recently got underway. With pitches across the country still soft underfoot from the volume of rain all spring, the men in navy and sky blue had little opportunity to get challenge matches in before their fixtures commenced.

With three league matches under their belt to date, they have recorded a win over near-neighbors Cushendun in their first outing of the year, followed by a two-point loss at home to Clooney Gaels in atrocious conditions and a defeat to St Gall's on Sunday past, whilst depleted of a number of key starters.

With two points on the board, they need to gain some more against Naomh Pól agus Na Seamróga in their two upcoming fixtures before they depart for their mid-season training camp in upper New York.

The prospect of playing at the iconic Gaelic Park was an opportunity that couldn’t be refused by the Shane’s when the opportunity arose and a buiochas mór to New York County Board for their generosity in allowing this to happen.

Whilst this is the first trip for many of these lads to the Big Apple, the evergreen Blaine McDermott graced the unfamiliar turf of Boston’s Carton Field for the Saffrons back in 2006 for the Ulster Hurling Final.

With a backroom team of planners made up of Shauna McKinely and Kathryn Bradley, ably assisted with the e-banking and currency converting guru Anne Marie Patterson there hasn’t been a hiccup in the organization or planning to disrupt bainisteoir Ciaran Matthews's plans for the trip, although there may have been a few visa issues to sort out before some of the boys came face to face with Homeland Security.

Whilst the New York team is having a great season to date after winning the Connacht Senior Hurling League, the men from the Glens will give them another opportunity to play a strong opposition in their preparations for the Lory Meagher Cup in 2025.

This team is able to draw on a mix of ex-county players from the old sod and home-bred players such as Pat Brennan, James Breen and Gearoid Kennedy. The inclusion of players such as former Galway U20 player David Mangan and Premier County underage player AJ Willis demonstrates just how seriously the exiles are taking this challenge.

Shane Ui Neills have nothing to fear with the resources they have to call upon this season, still motivated by the effervescent Darren Hamill playing in his twentieth season for the seniors, with as many individual awards to his name as he has county appearances.

A number of “old hands” still form the backbone of this team, with Dunga still resident between the sticks and the older Hamill brother Barry still taking no prisoners marshalling the small square.

Further forward the team sheet is littered with the McDermott brothers, some of them having represented their county, Deccy, Benny, and Blaine all taking a seat on the plane. The first seat on the plane would have been taken by a great Shane’s supporter, their father Sean, who wouldn’t have missed this opportunity for all the world had he not been taken too soon. 

Other College All Stars, under 20 county and university players line out in the half-back line, midfield, and on the 45’ and the 13’.

Daniel Black, Dylan McLaughlin, Ciaran Magill, Aidan Scullion, and the youthful talent released for this trip by Darren Gleeson that is Niall McGarel all travel to line out against the New York team. There are a couple of recognisable county Antrim names of Hunter and McBride on the New York team sheet, who shall relish playing against old foes from back home.

Arriving into JFK at lunchtime on Thursday with the game to throw in at 8 pm local time on Friday night, there will be little chance for the Glenarm men to get over any jetlag or see many of the sights of downtown Manhattan. With the game being live-streamed by New Logical Sports on YouTube, it would be great for all those back home in the Waterfall Bar and Paddy Diamonds to hear how the match is progressing.

If anyone fancies themselves as the next Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, there could be a slot for your commentating skills as our resident commentator is unable to travel.

A visit to Times Square for a team photo against the iconic backdrop that is the city that never sleeps to hang on the wall in the Feystown pavilion is the one non-negotiable that has been demanded of this group. 

Chairman Eamonn Matthews says: “This photo, amongst many others on that wall, will inspire future children within our club of what can be achieved as an individual, as a team, a community and most importantly as part of the GAA.

"This trip will hopefully be the catalyst to the next step in Shane Ui Neill’s development both on and off the pitch."

Traveling support has been vetted by the US Department of Homeland Security meaning ESTAs were refused to several well-known locals, however, those that managed to slip through immigration include Big Jim, Pete Hyndman, who’s bringing his whistle, Terence Mulvenna, who’s not bringing Ally the terrier, Paddy Ward, Liam Magill, Peter McGarel, big Dessie and a handful of other hangers-on who managed to get late seats. 

To the organizers, fundraisers, sponsors, and those who gave donations, all of those travelling are incredibly grateful.

To the parents, families, and left behind partners, unlike those men on the Irish Rover in 1806, your men will be returning five days later, having experienced the trip of a lifetime.