Quinn hopes close call in 2003 will act as warning to Leitrim
If the Leitrim footballers need any reminding about the pitfalls of an early-season trip to New York for what has been traditionally the championship's opening game, one of the current selectors, Seamus Quinn, can provide first-hand experience to them this weekend.
Leitrim flew out to New York yesterday in the knowledge that the exiles have assembled arguably their strongest team in the two decades since entering the provincial championship.
The five-year cycle for each Connacht county (London are not included) has thrown up a few cliff-hangers, none more so than 2003 when Leitrim were taken to extra-time before grinding out a 0-14 to 0-12 win.
Thus Leitrim, generally the lowest-ranked Connacht team on league status, always feel chill winds blowing in their direction when this fixture looms into view.
"Leitrim will always have that. I played in it in 2003 when it went to extra-time. You'd be trying to instil that into the players. Of course, it's not an easy place to go to. They are looking at Leitrim as one of the weakest counties in Connacht so they'll be saying this is their chance. We are trying to make our players very aware of that."
Quinn's memory of 2003 is how physical it was. He himself was sent off on a second yellow card but the physical nature of New York football, especially on the dusty old Gaelic Park surface, was nothing new to him having spent summers over there playing for the Leitrim GAA club.
"It was a very physical game, one of the most physical games I ever played in because they just want to get a win, get a scalp of some Connacht team," he recalled.
"We're well aware of what we're facing into. It's just we don't know a whole lot about New York because the only competitive game we know about that they had was against Corofin. It's hard to know what they're really like because there is no footage of them."
Leitrim's own preparations were hit by the loss of two league games to London and Waterford, originally postponed because of adverse weather but then shelved by the GAA's Competition Controls Committee because they didn't impact on the promotion places.
"We started off poor, then we had two very good wins over Wicklow and Limerick but the Waterford and London games were lost. We were looking forward to them games because they would have been good building blocks for New York and when they were pulled it was disappointing.
"I don't know was it the fact that it was a Division 4 competition but we were thinking, if it was a Division 1 game it would have been played and it was just probably the weaker counties aren't getting a fair crack of the whip."
On the plus side, Leitrim got Emlyn Mulligan back for their last two league games after he recovered from a third cruciate ligament rupture in his career.
"You have to admire the man for what he has gone through to have his body back in such shape again and to be going at it again. It's remarkable," said Quinn, full-back on the 1994 Connacht Championship winning side. "He's a huge man to have around the dressing-room and he's very good with the younger lads. Paddy Maguire and Mark Plunkett are also back now."
Quinn, who spent 16 seasons with Leitrim from 1992 to 2008, believes a two-tier championship could work well for his county.
"Everyone wants to play for championship, it's hard to call but a two-tier probably would work. It's heavy defeats (that take their toll), you have players drifting off because they see no light at the end of the tunnel. There is just too big a turnover of lads every year."