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Sligo facing banana skin in Big Apple -- Breheny

THE night before their 2007 Connacht championship opener, Sligo manager Tommy Breheny managed to procure a copy of the New York team that would start in Gaelic Park the following day.

The phone calls home started and a dossier on each opposition player began to take shape. Breheny and Sligo were leaving nothing to chance.

"The previous year, Roscommon had got a bit of a fright there," Breheny recalled. "There is going to be a shock in a game like that one day. You saw how close Mayo went last year to being beaten by London. You just have to take every step to ensure that it doesn't happen to you."

That was the first game to be played on Gaelic Park's new Astroturf surface and in the run-up to the game, Sligo travelled to the Thomas Davis club in Dublin to train on a similar surface.

"You approach that game with a little bit of trepidation. It's a step into the unknown and we would have prided ourselves on our preparation like having a file on opposition players. That information just isn't available over there.

"You're getting on a plane and you're away together and because you're expected to win, complacency can set in. We went to Gaelic Park on the Friday and Saturday at the same time that the game was due to throw-in, but we were still a little worried.

"But I remember we managed to get a hold of the video of the game Roscommon had the year before and we watched it and after that, everyone knew what would happen if we weren't ready."

Sligo would win comfortably and go on to collect their third Connacht title later that summer and Breheny insists the seeds for that success were sown in New York.

"We stayed out there for a week, from Thursday to Thursday. We got a lot of work done in the days after the game, trained twice a day. The New York Board made the Gaelic Grounds available to us and we had access to a gym too.

"It's still a very worthwhile trip. I think if you asked the players, they would say we made huge progress that week, it created a great togetherness."

According to Breheny, the move to an Astroturf surface has made Gaelic Park a more welcoming place for visiting teams.

"I was there as a spectator when Sligo went over in 2002 and New York got an early goal and played quite well that day. That was on the old sandy surface they had and that was a great leveller. Now that everyone has access to an Astroturf facility that advantage is gone."

Breheny expects Sligo to come through unscathed tomorrow and erase the memories of a dire 2011 campaign.

"Last year I think there was a serious hangover from 2010," said Breheny, who is currently in charge of the Yeats County minor side. "We beat Galway and Mayo, but losing the Connacht final to Roscommon meant they found last year very difficult.

"When they needed to get a few results in the league they did and that was encouraging. There's a lot of players still there from 2007 and some of them are at the latter end of their careers, so this is a big year for them. They have responded well this year and I know there's plenty of optimism for the season ahead."

Irish Independent