'It's mental ... you'll have 10,000 Mayo fans in New York'
JOHN CASEY was getting ready to board a flight when his mobile buzzed yesterday morning.
"Oh, it's mental," the former Mayo forward confirmed. "There's going to be 10,000 Mayo supporters in New York.
"It's just crazy. You want to see the N18 coming down here to Shannon – there must be 30 flights going from Ireland to New York today and tomorrow, and they're full of Mayo people."
All this for a presumably routine cobweb-remover, a Connacht SFC opener against a ‘county' yet to win a championship game in 20 attempts.
New York may have threatened that elusive ambush in recent years – losing to Roscommon by a point in 2016, then leapfrogged by Leitrim in extra-time last summer.
But this is Mayo – All-Ireland contenders, newly crowned Allianz League champions, who blitzed the Big Apple by 22 points in 2014. In other words, this should be straight-forward.
Yet the green-and-red diaspora is taking to the skies. Outsiders might view this as dangerous hype overdrive in a county still giddy from their Division 1 final win over Kerry.
But Casey, the RTÉ Radio match analyst, disagrees. "We travel no matter what's on," he reminds. "We had no league game with less than 10,000 people at it.
"It's just a fanatical bunch of supporters, not hype ... everybody is treating this as a mini-holiday before the summer."
Speaking of holidays (from hell), James Horan's summer baptism as a Mayo manager almost delivered the unthinkable – humiliation in London eight years ago. They escaped from Ruislip after extra-time; the rest is history.
"James Horan's inter-county management career could have gone so differently," reflects his former teammate. "Lo and behold, scraped an extra-time win in London, and ended up winning the Connacht final. It was a remarkable set of events.
"I know he would have been professional the last time, but he's learned an awful lot in the few years he was away. And you can nearly tell by talking to the players that he's a completely different human being. To coin a phrase from Lee Keegan, ‘he's a lot more scary!' So that's kind of a good way. The likes of Lee Keegan saying that, what are the young fellas thinking?"
Casey can't see any hint of a shock in the Bronx on Sunday (throw-in 7.15pm, Irish time). The match is all about "getting over it" - with a clean bill of health – before heading for a training camp in the Catskills.
"It's probably well documented that Diarmuid O'Connor picked up a facial injury and is out for the game. So, there'd be a little bit of concern – with Roscommon (or Leitrim) on May 25 around the corner," he said.
Current skipper Diarmuid and his predecessor, brother Cillian who is just back from a lengthy knee injury lay-off, are both absent from the team announced yesterday. It includes three SFC debutants: James McCormack, rising midfield star Matthew Ruane and James Carr.
Still, Casey is intrigued to see what 15 take to the astroturf. "James Horan threw a pile of curveballs – every league game he made a couple of changes, bizarre ones that we couldn't see coming, and they all seemed to work well," he pointed out.
"He's very hard to second-guess at the minute. Leaving the likes of Boyler (Colm Boyle) and Andy (Moran) on the line, I'm sure they're spitting iron at training because they want to be on the starting 15.
"It's kind of a lovely scenario," Casey expands. "He's created the perfect storm for himself, in the fact he has these players that have come through. You've the likes of Ciarán Treacy, going for the goal in the last minute of the league final, playing with what you'd almost call a reckless abandon ... that's what you want, somebody with balls."
MAYO (SFC v New York): 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.