O'Donnell apologises to Roscommon fans over New York 'malfunction'
Dusk descended early on a northern corner of the Bronx on Sunday night. The first day of May had been unseasonably wet, bitterly cold. The floodlights, switched on soon after start of the afternoon's main event, now kept the place lit.
But the party was only getting started. The beer poured freely and the barbecues billowed smoke across the concourse as nobody looked ready to leave early. Nobody, that is, except for the day's headline act.
The off-Broadway debut of the new Roscommon had come within a breath of ending in infamy. They weren't eager to hang around and pour over it, making their way quickly to the buses and flying home last night with all sorts of excess baggage.
Roscommon - the very same Roscommon who had travelled to Cork and Kerry in the league and plundered victory - almost blundered into an epic defeat in the Empire State. The beaten Division 1 semi-finalists had been tipped to win by as much as 22 points by some bookmakers against a team of ex-pats that many believe have no place in the competition at all.
New York proved the folly of all such opinions with a stirring display. For the men in charge of the visitors, there was relief, regret and a healthy dash of rage from a 1-15 to 0-17 scoreline.
"It's just not good enough. The Roscommon jersey, people have been talking this week about being proud to wear the Roscommon jersey, we didn't wear it with pride today and that's very disappointing," said joint manager Fergal O'Donnell, unhappy with the team's social diary in the city and how his players reacted to the noise.
"I suppose in 2011 we were criticised that we didn't attend a lot of functions and do's and whatever. There's been a lot of distractions (this year). I'm not blaming anyone, they're fundraisers and what have you.
"But I think we've all seen ourselves that you can get caught up in the hype. We were very lucky to get off that pitch. It's a very disappointing performance and disappointing for our supporters who came out. The reality is that, in three weeks' time, against Leitrim, that ain't going to be good enough."
O'Donnell and his colleague on the sideline Kevin McStay were searingly honest in their appraisal afterwards. It would have been impossible to be anything but.
While Ciaran Murtagh, scorer of the game's only goal from a penalty, John McManus and Fintan Cregg had stood tall, too many plainly failed off the ground. Through the steady rain, the visitors had been much too porous. New York had 17 scores on the day, Roscommon 16. It was that stark.
"If we look stale, we look stale but you know we did come here without a few players who had been injured. Maybe that strength isn't there like we think," reasoned O'Donnell.
"There can be a tendency in Roscommon, I've always said, that players are maybe overrated. But look, fresh after the game, it's very disappointing, we have to go back and look at it all.
"There's a lot of positives - for New York. They showed more hunger and fight than us. I'm just disappointed but listen I suppose the fact that we got out with a tight win, just to escape with the win was a positive."
Roscommon had opted to mix youth and experience in New York, handing out five Championship debuts. But as the home side staged a spirited second-half fightback, heads were lost at Gaelic Park. The visitors went from six points up on 56 minutes to clinging on to dear life.
As chants of 'Let's Go New York' rumbled from the grandstand on the hour-mark, it was not leading Roscommon men who rose but fringe characters such as Darren Freeman and Luke Loughlin who came to the fore. New Yorkers by the way of Monaghan and Westmeath respectively, they outfought and out-thought their opposition.
"The turnovers went through the roof," admitted McStay. "And we never got a grip of the game in midfield which is a recurring theme for us. We tried to replace it with a lot of energy in there today and it didn't work either.
"None of the team played well as far as I could see, or very average at most. We just malfunctioned in so many areas. And we have to look at ourselves too as management. We put them out there. We prepared them and we just got nothing like we expected.
"So there's so much to look at and not a lot of time to get it all right. This day three weeks we're down in Carrick on Shannon. If we play like that, then we're out of the Championship, there's no question about that.
"Leitrim will put up a bigger show and beat us. My hope is that we can turn this around but there's a hell of a lot of work to do."