Tuesday 12 December 2017

Will Sligo fall in New York trap?

Sligo manager Niall Carew faces a difficult start to the Championship. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Sligo manager Niall Carew faces a difficult start to the Championship. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Sligo have been hit with a series of significant withdrawals from Sunday's opening Connacht Championship game in New York - with manager Niall Carew criticising the scheduling of the fixture.

Niall Murphy, the county's most prolific forward, is expected to miss the game with a hamstring tear but it's the loss of two exam-tied students - full-back Kevin McDonnell and half-back Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch - which has really perplexed Carew.

The NUIG pair sit exams on Monday morning next and won't be in the US as they stay at home to prepare.

O'Kelly-Lynch was a driving force behind Sligo's run to the Connacht U-21 final which they lost to Galway after extra-time, and was arguably the senior side's most consistent player in the League.

The loss of this trio has left Carew dealing with a "nightmare" scenario as they face such a tricky assignment against the improving exiles, who have stepped up preparations with two matches against visiting Donegal in the middle of April.


Carew claims that there was no proper consultation over this fixture with the players - "the major stakeholders" - describing the situation as has described as "ludicrous".

He pointed out that normally this fixture is played on the May Bank Holiday weekend, which would have left McDonnell and O'Kelly-Lynch available. But with the game now pushed back a week from its normal slot they have been inconvenienced.

"There was no consultation with us in terms of the fixture. It's cast in stone, this is the way it is. It's on that weekend and that's it," said Carew.

"We flagged the issues with the Connacht Council, the Gaelic Players Association and the college but no-one would do anything for us."

Carew revealed that three other students were deferring their exams until August but neither McDonnell or O'Kelly-Lynch were in a position to do this.

Murphy has a grade two hamstring tear and has only resumed jogging.

After last year's scare for Roscommon in New York, Sligo have been leaving nothing to chance with their preparation and have trained exclusively on astro-turf pitches at the Connacht Council GAA centre in Bekan, and on St Loman's GAA pitch in Mullingar in preparation for Gaelic Park.

"Since the end of the League we've only trained on astro. The problem is no-one wants to play challenges on astro," said Carew.

"It's a definite advantage to New York, the fact that they play on it so often and have had a couple of recent challenges against Donegal at the venue."

Carew said he has consulted Roscommon manager Kevin McStay on his experience in the Big Apple last year and has also had conversations with Kevin Walsh and Tommy Breheny, two previous Sligo managers who have brought teams to New York.

"I can say honestly that we have prepared for this game in the same way that we would have prepared for the Roscommon game last year," he insisted. "But it's a real challenge. Even logistically to get it right, I'd be lost without the input of (logistics official) Peter Breen."

New York have been bolstered by the addition of quite a number of players with inter-county experience.

Joined up

Former Mayo defender Tom Cunniffe, Dublin hurler Danny Sutcliffe, Armagh's Eugene McVerry, Monaghan's Daniel McKenna, Galway's David Cunnane and Wicklow's Conor McGraynor have joined up, while Keith Quinn, a former Down player, Donegal's Ross Wherity and Westmeath's Keith Scally are among the more established members of the New York panel. Goalkeeper Vinny Cadden will be facing some of his Sligo old team-mates.

However Offaly's Brian Connor is absent from a 30-man squad named yesterday by New York because of a cruciate ligament injury which he picked up in one of the recent challenge games against Donegal and will have operated on next month, while Johnny Glynn has committed to Galway hurling again.

Carew maintains that having assessed the profile of the New York squad, they would make a solid Division 3 team if they were consistently based in Ireland.

"That's our level," he pointed out. "But maybe they could go even higher.

"I can only speak from a management point of view but it's a nightmare scenario for us.

"We're on a hiding to nothing. And if we win we're back in action against Mayo 10 days after arriving home. That's a tough schedule."

New York squad - Vinny Cadden, Tom Cunniffe, David Cunnane, Shane Hogan, Peter Withlowe, Brain Gallagher, David Culhane, Paddy Boyle, Conor McGraynor, Daniel McKenna, Gerard McCartan (capt), Shane O Connor, Keith Quinn, Danny Sutcliffe, Jer O Sullivan, Eoin Flanagan, Paul Lambe, Keith Scally, Tony Donnelly, Kevin Connelly, David Freeman, Stephen Doake, Ronan McGinley, Conor Farrell, Paul McGinley, Colin Keane, Ross Wherity Eoin Ward, Eugene McVerry, Niall McFeeley.

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