It is championship time again in New York, with the annual trek from across the pond for a Connaught side. This year it is the five-year anniversary for Roscommon as they take on the home side in Gaelic Park.
While the results over the last five years can be looked on in a number of ways, GAA brethren in New York would see the panel assembled for this tie as one of the best in recent history.
Roscommon, despite their status as reigning Connaught champions, are still deemed as one of the weaker sides in the province. A long history of few titles at a national level will do that to a side.
New York had a decent result against the visitors five years ago, indeed they could have snatched a win. They eventually ran out eight point losers 1-14 to 0-9, with the New York side and scorers as follows:
Chris Green, Niall Corbett, James Mitchell, Dave Rooney (Justin O'Halloran), Cathel McEvor, Anthony Rooney, Pa Murphy, Kenny O'Connor 0-1, Gary Dowd 0-1, Aden McCarron 0-4, Sean Munnelly, Dermot Dorgan (Stephen Flynn), Mark Dobbins, Robbie Moran 0-2, Vinnie Gavin 0-1 (Paddy Smith).
O’Halloran is involved this year as selector and trainer while Kenny O’Connor is also on the panel. It will be a new look side for both teams this time around, with a chance at a serious breakthrough on the cards.
New York had a very busy fall season last year with three games against Down, Mayo and Louth. They followed this with two games in recent weeks against Boston.
The side and panel that graced the field in those games last year will have little resemblance to the team that runs out on the field next Sunday. There are at least eight players on the panel who have yet to kick a ball in championship football in New York. One, Kevin Walsh, did play a couple of years ago for Kerry in the New York championship and also togged out in the FBD fixture that year against Galway.
While certainly it is great to see the influx of players in New York, one looks at the team that lined out for New York in last year’s tie and a player on that occasion never played in the championship before or after the game.
That being said, the lack of New York home-grown players is obvious. Two players, Conor Hogan and Sean Reilly, are not available for this tie for a number of reasons, while James Huvane is still injured.
That leaves one in the form of CJ Molloy holding the fort for players who have come through the ranks of the Minor Board. There are other American-born players on the panel, but if memory serves me they did not play for an extended period at the underage level.
The link between minor and senior needs to be looked at, and the ability to help those underage players to reach the highest levels also addressed. It is not working at the moment, it seems. Perhaps this is in need of a longer discussion on another day.
The New York panel that is assembled for Sunday is perhaps as close in ability to the side that beat Clare twice some years ago, and the side that won the FBD against Sligo on an historic day.
The goalkeeper position seems to be set, with Alan Hearty locked in. The defense has a lot of options with a number of players seemingly certain to get starting slots.
Paul Lambe is a tight marking speedy corner back, while Rory Stafford is in the best shape of his career. Staff may take the three slot.
Aidan Power was shaking off an injury but if fit will challenge for a central slot, although he may also get the five shirt. Brendan McGourty will get a wing back slot, with perhaps Mike Jim Fitzgerald sitting in at six.
Ronan McGinley is a flyer of a defender who has done little wrong in the two challenges versus Boston. Ciaran Martin is a very competent defender, while Joe Bell has quite a bit of experience at this level.
John Goldrick is also a possibility back here. Damien O’Boyle played in the back line for short periods against Boston and may not be used as an option there.
Midfield is the strongest area for New York, with three or four viable options. Pat Madden seems to have one slot secured. If he can reign in the emotions he is a bona fide intercounty player.Adrian O’Connor is carrying a knock but should be clear to go for Sunday; he may be used as a spark off the bench.
Namesake but no relation, Rory -- he actually played intercounty for their opponents this Sunday -- is also a very capable midfielder. A strong ball carrier, he will have no fears against lining out against former teammates.
Stephen Harold is a new kid on the block. He showed fierce talent in the Cavan sevens and has repeated this in training and the last challenge against Boston, according to sources. Stafford is an option here but unlikely, Mike Jim may be more of a possibility.
Up front there are a couple of constants with their positions a question mark. Dan Doona is captain again and he will start in the full forward line. I would put him on the square -- the more responsibility the better he plays. Looks like he may be in the corner.
Robbie Tasker, if he is cleared to play, will have the other corner. Deadly dangerous with an eye for goal, he was a scoring phenom with Armagh when they won the All-Ireland minor title recently.
Gary McCooey may have sown up a wing forward slot with impressive displays recently, while Jason Kelly has shown in club and county games to be the best player in New York at the moment.
Kevin Walsh is another ball carrying wizard who can play an important role at wing forward, while
Francie Cleary would have a big supporter in this corner but may lose out in a number crunch.
If the side goes with a tactical number 11 then Cleary may be the man. That worked very well for New York when Louis Holland used Sean Munnelly in the role six years ago against these same opponents.
CJ Molloy will get the full forward role, while Seamus Toner could get the 11 spot if the management team goes more conventional. Kenny O’Connor may be used as a high ball tactic on the square from the bench.
The panel is as follows -- 1 Alan Hearty (Armagh), 2 Gary Lowney (Cork), 3 Aidan Power (Tyrone), 4 Joe Bell (Tyrone), 5 Ronan McGinley (Cavan), 6 Brendan McGourty (Down), 7 Kevin Walsh (Kerry), 8 Mike Jim Fitzgerald (Kerry), 9 Jason Kelly (Cork), 10 Kevin McGeeney (Armagh), 11 CJ Molloy (Donegal), 12 Dan Doona (Leitrim), 13 Kenny O’Connor (Leitrim), 14 Pat Madden (Leitrim), 15 John McGoldrick (Leitrim), 16 Rory Stafford (Cork), 17 Francie Cleary (Cork), 18 Rory O’Connor (Roscommon), 19 Damien O’Boyle (Dublin), 20 Paul Lambe (Cavan), 21 Robbie Tasker (Cork), 22 Ciaran Martin (Cavan), 23 Gary McCooey (Cork), 24 Seamus Toner (Armagh), 25 Stephen Harold (Cavan), 26 Adrian O’Connor (Leitrim).
The team I see is this -- Hearty, Lambe, Stafford, McGinley, Power, Fitzgerald, McGourty, Madden, Harold, Kelly, Toner, Walsh, Doona, Molloy, Tasker.
Roscommon come in to town on the crest of a wave -- sort of. They qualified for the division four final after a very successful league campaign. They then had a bit of a disaster losing to Longford tamely, 2-11 to 1-08 loss. The team that played in the final was as follows – G. Claffey; S. McDermott, P. Domican, N. Carty; S. Purcell, D. Keenan, D. Ward (0-1); M. Finneran, K. Mannion; C. Devaney (0-1), K. Higgins (0-2), C. Cregg (0-4); J. Rogers, S. Kilbride (1-0), D. Shine. Subs: G. Heneghan, S. O'Grady, I. Kilbride, E. Kenny, T. Kelly.
Hold-overs from the game six years ago include McDermott, Henaghan, Finneran, and Mannion. Results from the league included the following -- Longford 1-7 Roscommon 0-10; Roscommon 2-13
Carlow 0-8; Roscommon 1-12 Fermanagh 1-9; Roscommon 0-16 Clare 1-10; Roscommon 3-14 Wicklow 2-16; Roscommon 0-7 Leitrim 0-5.
In the FBD the scores were Mayo 1-12 Roscommon 0-8; Roscommon 1-15 GMIT 1-11.
Yes, they have a record of eight wins, one draw and two losses, but nothing earth shattering about the package.
It bodes well then for New York on Sunday. The next round of the Connaught Championship will be played in June -- will it be at Gaelic Park?