Saturday 18 November 2017

Exiles boss believes fitness rise can help deliver fairytale in New York

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

THEIR parents left Ireland to pursue the American dream but for four New Yorkers this Sunday is the chance of a lifetime to chase that ultimate Irish fantasy.

Nothing beats the opening day of the championship season for hope. New York and Sligo get proceedings under way on Sunday after putting in the work on the training field and while some of the 33 teams will believe that this is their year more than others, there is not a footballer among those participating who doesn't think that they can make something happen this summer.

By 10.0 on Sunday, one team's dream will be truly dashed in the Bronx and, more than likely, it will be New York who have made their exit. That's the way it has always been.

There is something different about this year's team, however, with a quartet of home-grown players in the starting line-up. Their season of Sundays might last just 70 minutes, but for Donnchadh Dwyer, Conor Hogan, Shane Hogan and CJ Molloy this will be a way to connect with the land of their fathers like no other.

Three more American-born players will be in reserve, one of whom, Del Ferreira, is of Portuguese descent and took up the game because he was a friend of Molloy's. It is a championship tale like few others and the way forward in a climate where emigrants are choosing Australia, Canada and London ahead of New York, where visas are hard to come by.

"These guys have come through the minor board and played with college teams," explained manager Connie Molloy -- the father of CJ and brother of Donegal All-Ireland-winning captain Anthony. "We had some success last year, winning a Division 2 shield (in the British Universities championship) and that was the first time we had success in that regard.

"These American-born kids would be hooked up with junior clubs and then they are entitled to draft up to intermediate and senior clubs here -- so they play a lot of football.

"It is the way to proceed. What happens here is you get a lot of good players in this town, a lot good footballers (from home). But to get the commitment going from them -- that's a lot different. They have left their clubs in Ireland to come here and are promised jobs. They are happy just to fulfil that role and it's very hard to ask them to step it up and play for New York for one game."

Anyone who watched the excellent documentary 'An Exile's Home in the Bronx' about last year's effort will know how difficult a task the Exiles face and many of those who featured in that production, including captain Dan Doona and former Wexford senior footballer Rory Stafford, are no longer involved.

One man who is back is trainer Mickey Coleman, an All-Ireland winner with Tyrone in 2003 whose work as a singer/songwriter has brought him to the city that never sleeps and he has helped modernise the New York effort.

"He brought a different dimension. I've been out here 30 years and there is a new way of training teams and everything that has evolved and has by-passed you," Molloy explained.

"When you get someone like Mickey, who has an All-Ireland medal, he generates serious interest in the set-up and keeps the guys motivated and changes it up.

"He has been around good Tyrone teams and Mickey Harte, he gained respect with his approach. The tackling and intensity, the level of fitness that is required, is something he would be well aware of."

As ever, the difficulty has been preparation. New York have been training every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday since January but while Sligo have been competing against their rivals in the league, the Exiles have yet to play a game of any real quality going into their one shot at success.

"The big issue here is getting games, getting challenges because this year to date, the Sligo team we play on Sunday will have anything up to 15 inter-county games under their belt," Molloy admitted. "But you have to go for it and this year I definitely think this is one of the fittest, best-prepared teams we've had at Gaelic Park in some time."

Irish Independent

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