At this stage of the football championship most inter-county players would be cursing a seven-week break between matches. Tiernan Mathers is counting his blessings.
For the second time in the same season, New York are back on the old sod, this time for Saturday’s Tailteann Cup preliminary quarter-final against Carlow. That makes it three games so far, with the potential of more to come.
It may feel like a long time since New York famously beat Leitrim on penalties over the Easter weekend, the trees around Gaelic Park in the Bronx still bare, but that first championship win in 22 attempts is the gift that’s still giving.
If you’d told someone, back then, the New York footballers would still be involved long after the Cork and Waterford hurlers made their exit, you’d have got some strange looks. Welcome to the new world order.
“It is massive,” says Mathers, a Queens native and one of the increasing number of New York-born players on the team. He is the second eldest of eight children, his mother Stephanie from Down, his father Colin from Armagh.
“To get over the line, against Leitrim ... we’ve been in the competition for over 20 years, and finally getting that win, it was some amount of pressure that came off our shoulders.
“It was so special after the match, the flood of kids, something we had never seen before. We had a night after the match where all the younger kids came up to meet the team. To inspire the youngsters, especially as an American-born player, that means a lot, not just to us but as a community here. We enjoyed the win, enjoyed the couple of days after, then went right back to training and all eyes towards Sligo.”
Two weeks later, the defeat to Sligo on their last visit home, 2-16 to 0-6, might have been a slight let-down for manager Johnny McGeeney, the 37-year-old Armagh native, but there was already a new date in the diary.
By prior agreement, New York got a bye in the preliminary quarterfinals. After the other Tailteann Cup contenders played three rounds, they were drawn against Carlow (sparing Mathers a meeting with Down, where he learned much of his football trade).
“I would be more of a Down man,” he says. “We probably spent most of the summer over there, doing Cúl Camps at Longstone club, training away when we’re over there.
“I also played soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball. We started playing football at under-6, Dad was one of the founders of Shannon Gaels so he would’ve been training us when we were younger and getting us involved, so we’d be playing football and hurling from a young age.”
It was a football injury which first brought his father to New York: “Yeah, injury kind of drove him over here, then they rooted down here and started the family. It’s hard to leave when you’ve kids.”
Getting back to the country for a second time isn’t without challenges, particularly given the uncertainty of what comes next: accommodation has been reserved beyond this weekend, should it be needed, and Mathers has also had to take more time off work
A project manager with the construction firm Navillus (sponsors of New York GAA), he’s also studying for a MA at the New York Institute of Technology
“I’ve a very hectic schedule, bouncing around from work, to school, to football, every day. Normally you’d be preparing from January and you’d only have the one match to look forward to. If you lose that is it, you’re done until next year.
“Last year after the Sligo match we knew we had another game (the junior football final against Kilkenny), we were obviously preparing for that. The more game time we get the stronger we will grow as a team. This year to have three matches, it is an even bigger deal.
“Here, you wouldn’t be playing against other county players week in, week out. This year, I’d say 14 out of the 15 starters stayed on from last year, then a few county players came in. So we are building our skill level and experience.”
With the potential, perhaps, to cause a second upset of the summer.