3,000 miles and three currencies: New York make giant steps to compete in Tailteann Cup

Preparing for their first game on Irish soil in more than 20 years has been a big challenge for manager Johnny McGeeney

New York manager Johnny McGeeney has had a hectic few weeks organising his side's trip to Ireland to play Offaly in the Tailteann Cup. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Donnchadh Boyle

A trek of 3,000 miles and three different currencies are what the footballers of New York will require to contest their first senior inter-county game on these shores since 2001.

From the dollars needed before they departed the US, to the sterling used for their hotel stay in Newry and euro that is used around Tullamore, a touring party of around 30 landed here yesterday morning ahead of their Tailteann Cup quarter-final against Offaly.

It’s been a major exercise in logistics and paperwork to get them here. Everywhere they looked, there were challenges and issues around leave, visas and accommodation.

Even this week, manager Johnny McGeeney reported that two of the party were in the Irish Consulate on New York’s Park Avenue, hoping to finalise eleventh-hour details to make their trip home.

It’s against that backdrop that McGeeney freely admits that their preparation hasn’t been as good as it could have been. His side ran Sligo close when they met in the Connacht Championship in April.

However, it has been difficult for them to build on that. There has been an almost eight-week gap between the games but with club action, limited access to grass pitches, and the unavailability some of the squad that togged against Sligo, it’s been a tricky couple of months.

“To be honest, it’s been difficult,” McGeeney said of his side’s preparation. “We were going into the unknown and the lads were going back to club games, training with the club – and you’d be trying to organise training, and only half of them could train.

“It probably wasn’t thought out too well. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, we just haven’t done this before,” he said, of preparing for a championship match back in Ireland.

New York fielded some familiar names in that near miss against the Yeats men, not least former Cork hurler Mark Ellis and Galway hurler Johnny Glynn. Adrian Varley played for the Tribe footballers, while Niall Madine has lined out for Down. Alan Campbell won a Munster SFC medal with Tipperary in 2020.

Others like Ger McCullagh, who played for Meath in the 2002 All-Ireland minor final, featured off the bench against Sligo.

There’s significant American-born influence, too. Their captain Jamie Boyle has a strong sporting pedigree, having played college football for University of Central Florida, where he had a brief flirtation with NFL scouts.

According to McGeeney, the original travel party has changed significantly. Some have visa issues, others can’t get the time off work while more are due to travel home to play in the All-Ireland junior championships later this summer, and aren’t in the position to make the trip back twice.

And, even though they didn’t know who they would be playing until Monday morning, they had to book a hotel well in advance given the demand for rooms here. A south Armagh native, McGeeney kept it local and booked into the Canal Court in Newry, more than two hours on a bus from where they will take on Offaly.

They were paired with John Maughan’s side in the draw, who are, on league status, the highest-ranked side in the competition.

McGeeney was awake when news of the draw came through, not long after 3am in New York. He got to work, sending an itinerary to his squad. They’ve worked in a visit to his home club in Culloville. They’ll go for a kick-about in Páirc Esler, while Aaron Kernan was in touch offering the keys to Crossmaglen.

There’s been help in other ways, too. Before most of New York had lifted their heads from the pillow on Monday morning, someone had sent him a dossier on Offaly’s performances this year.

They have a plan, too, to try and deal with the effects of jet lag.

“I gave the boys an itinerary for the Thursday and told them whatever sleeping you need to do, do it on the plane. And from when we land to Saturday, we are there as a team.

“My family are coming home, but I won’t see them until the Saturday – and I told the boys the same, because Thursday we will get to bed early. And Friday morning we’ll be, hopefully, back to normal.”

New York have had several near misses since joining the Connacht Championship in 1999, but they haven’t won a match against a county side since beating Galway in a two-legged National League final back in 1967.

The bookmakers suggest that run won’t end on Saturday, but McGeeney believes being included in the competition will help them grow.

But he warns the notion of a sustainable, self-sufficient GAA in the Big Apple is going to take time.

“It’s great to have it but next year we need to look on it. We have Leitrim (in Connacht) and whatever happens in that – and, hopefully, the Tailteann Cup is still there and it is an open draw. We think and it might give us a better chance.

“Realistically, I think we should have been in the preliminary round, there were people giving out about New York going straight to the quarter-finals. That’s the last thing we want.

“We’ve Offaly, too, and that’s the last thing we wanted, but it is what it is.

“Look, the boys want to play football and they want to be a part of the GAA, so we are trying to keep it alive. So we just go with it, and that’s it.”

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