'Best team in Ireland are coming out to play' - O'Halloran expects tough battle in the Bronx
New York football boss Justin O'Halloran reckons they are taking on the best team in Ireland at the moment when they face Mayo in the Bronx tomorrow (7.15pm Irish time).
The Cavan native, now in his fourth year in charge, says Mayo's form during the National League in manager James Horan's second spell in charge was outstanding.
And he knows their chances of coming close to a first championship win, which they almost achieved last year against Leitrim and three seasons ago against Roscommon, are not good.
"In a way you'd have to say the best team in Ireland is coming out to play us given that they have just won the last competition they all played for," he stated.
"They are an in-form team, James Horan seems to have pushed them on a lot since he came back.
"They have introduced a lot of new talent and we have no doubt about the size of the task ahead of us.
"But this is a big day each year for the GAA in New York and in the United States and we are looking forward to giving it our best shot," added O'Halloran.
He doesn't have a marquee name like Armagh's Jamie Clarke 12 months ago, but he reckons they have a very good balance with Roscommon's Cathal Compton, goalkeeper Vinny Cadden and Kildare's Seán Hurley key figures.
"We have prepared well. But it's the same every year, you are almost starting from scratch to build a team and that can be difficult.
"We know we need a good start. You can't let a team like Mayo, especially the way they finished the league, get a head start. It will be a difficult afternoon if that happens.
"We played club championship here in the past few weeks and that has helped sharpen lads but we are under no illusions about the task ahead of us.
"But we are determined to go out and give it our best shot, that's all we can do. There will be a huge crowd, and we are going to enjoy it," said O'Halloran.
Horan's first championship outing as Mayo manager almost ended in calamity away to London in 2011, when only a late salvo from debutant Cillian O'Connor got them across the line by 0-19 to 2-10 after extra-time.
Such drama is unlikely at Gaelic Park tomorrow, even if New York pushed Leitrim to extra-time last year, but Horan is taking nothing for granted as his second term in charge embarks on a championship laden with promise after their league win.
"We were delighted with how the league ended up, but, I suppose, more important for us, we worked hard on key parts of our game.
"Some of them improved, some of them not as much as we like. Certainly, we had a lot of development in players as well, with some of the newer guys that have come through have shown that they can contend for championship this year. That's a huge part of it for us to get some new options and see how they pan out."
The last time they did this gig five years ago, the players were dragged here and there to off-field events, but Horan is insisting on a much more focused trip this time.
There is every chance that the 2019 championship could kick off with fans locked outside as thousands have made the trip from Mayo, while a huge contingent of emigrants will also attend Gaelic Park where capacity is expected to be around 4,500.
Horan knows the danger of getting caught up in all that razzmatazz.
"You're going to New York City so there are going to be distractions," he insisted.
"But I just think with the team and the experience that we have, that have gone through Ruislip and have gone through Gaelic Park before, a lot of these guys, that once the game cycle kicks in, I don't think there's any issues of where their attention will be.
"The logistics and all that, going over, there's a lot to that. That we've done it before, we'd hope we'd have minimised the possibility of stuff going wrong. We're looking forward to it.
"Playing New York sometimes is a bit of an unknown, but we'll get ourselves as right as we can and try and play as well as we can."
New York - V Cadden; M Creegan, G McCartan, R Gorman; P Boyle, M Naughton, M Queenan; C Compton, S Hurley; S Hogan, L Kelly, D McKenna; D Freeman, N Madine, P Hatzer.
Mayo - R Hennelly; C Barrett, B Harrison, K Higgins; P Durcan, L Keegan, J McCormack; M Ruane, A O'Shea; E Regan, J Doherty, F Boland; K McLoughlin, D Coen, J Carr.
REF - C Lane (Cork).