Dan Doona: 'We actually expect to beat Roscommon and write our names into GAA history'
Former Kerry underage football star Dan Doona is getting ready to lead New York into their Connacht championship opener against the reigning champions in the Bronx this Sunday with sights set on a huge upset, as Kieran McCarthy discovered
Dan Doona is still big news in Kerry. That's always been the case. He may have swapped the flowing green fields of his native Beaufort, outside Killarney, for the contrasting concrete jungle of the Big Apple, but he still makes and adorns headlines in the Kingdom. It's just the way it is.
But more so this year, as the 25-year-old former Kerry underage football star is the captain of the New York senior football team that has its sights set on claiming the scalp of provincial champions Roscommon in this Sunday's Connacht championship opener at the Gaelic Park.
Often referred to, in Kerry football circles, as 'the one that got away', this is Doona's time, once more, to remind everybody at home just how good he really is. And he is good. Very good.
Wicklow manager Mick O'Dwyer thought likewise in 2007 -- after his side took on New York in the Owen Treacy Cup final, the Waterville great tried to pull out all the stops and tempt Doona, who scored 1-5 in a man-of-the-match performance, into a sensational switch to the Garden County.
It was a story that made national headlines, but the move didn't appeal to the former Kerry senior panellist. It just didn't feel right.
"Micko was on about it. He wanted me to go and play with Wicklow," Doona said. "He rang a few times, trying to get me to move home. But I didn't have much interest in it.
"I could have gone if I wanted to. But it wasn't for me. My life is in New York," added Doona, who made the move from Kerry to the USA in the summer of 2006.
Initially, it began as that typical three-month adventure in the States. But this particular voyage grew wings, as the weeks became months, and as soon as they turned to years, Doona downed roots Woodlawn in the Bronx.
While his new life in the Big Apple blossomed, the former Kerry minor captain left a potential senior career behind him. Identified as a forward to watch, two National League appearances in 2006, under Jack O'Connor, should have catapulted his career to the next level.
But then he made the decision, that summer, to live the American dream. And Doona has no regrets.
"When I came out to New York first I only expected to stay here for the summer. I said I would go for the few months when I had the chance. Then I ended up staying, but I always thought that I would head home after a year or so. But going home just never came around for me," he explained.
"Now and again I do think about it, what might have happened if I stayed around in Kerry, but I move on from that pretty quickly. You can't think like that; what might have been. There is no point.
"I have a son here. I'm happy. I don't regret it at all. If I had stayed at home then I would never have had Dan (his son)."
Doona's future is New York. The Bronx might be a million miles away from the shadow of Carrantuohill, where he grew up and served his football apprenticeship with Beaufort, but it's now where he calls home.
"The longer you stay here and live here then the harder you find it to leave. Where I am living in Woodlawn is like living in a town in Ireland. I am fairly well settled here now," he said.
"It's nearly the same life as home in some ways. You get up in the morning. You do your day's work. You come home. And you go to training. Once the summer and football starts here, it's just like a summer's day back in Killarney with loads of people around the place."
A classy forward, who is likely to line out on the '40' against Roscommon this Sunday, Doona and his team-mates are eyeing a place in GAA history, as he explains.
"We actually expect to beat Roscommon. That's the way we are approaching the championship this year. We are confident," Doona said.
"We feel that this is New York's chance to win a championship game. It would be a huge boost to football here. The players see this as a chance to go down in history as the first New York team to win a championship game. This is the chance to get our names written into the history books of the GAA."
But Doona acknowledges that defeating the Rossies is not going to be easy. Far from it. While the Connacht champions have had the luxury of a National League campaign that included a Division 4 final defeat to Longford, New York's preparation has consisted of challenge games against Boston.
And with the warm yet not so comforting memory of last season's fright job on Galway in the Connacht championship still fresh, Doona and New York are ready to go one step further than last year.
"What we want now is to get the result that we want against Roscommon," he said. "We very were disappointed not to beat Galway last year.
"We felt that we were good enough to win that game. Galway are a nice footballing side but Roscommon will be that much tougher so we have to be ready for that. It's going to be a hard game.
"Last year against Galway we were down by just a point with 10 minutes to go and we played the last 15 minutes with only 13 men. We know that if we had kept all our guys on the field that we would have beaten Galway. Joe Kernan said as much after the game. That was a hard defeat to take."
It was also a feeling that Doona doesn't want to experience again. This is his time to show everybody at home, once more, what all the fuss is about. This is New York's time to make the big breakthrough.
This is, again, Dan Doona's time to be big news back home, in Kerry. That's just the way it is.