No fairytale for New York as Sligo prevail
Home side lead late on in the Bronx before Sligo’s veterans take charge
New York and Sligo players battle for the ball during the Connacht SFC game at Gaelic Park, Bronx, New York. Photograph: Andy Marlin/Inpho
Sligo survived a brief but real scare in the Bronx on Sunday night before their experience and class told late on to see off a spirited New York side.
However in their hour of need Niall Carew’s veterans stepped up to wrestle control from the Exiles, Kyle Cawley’s goal a dagger in New York sides before Sligo saw out an eight-point win.
Hope had sprung more vividly in the Big Apple than ever before. Having given Division One Roscommon the fright of their lives here last year, bookmakers offered the shortest odds ever on a New York triumph since their introduction into the Connacht championship in 1999.
The locals were buoyed too. In a nation that has had immigration turned into a dirty word in tumultuous recent times, this afternoon of celebrating the culture of a distant homeland had drawn hordes of recent and not-so recently arrivals to the northern corner of the Bronx. Whereas in years past they made the same pilgrimage for solely social purposes, the sporting aspect of the All-Ireland championship has taken on ever greater significance as the Empire State became an ever-more live threat.
Those shortened 5/2 odds on a historic New York victory might have drifted in the hour before throw-in as the most high-profile addition to Justin O’Halloran’s set-up – former Mayo corner back Tom Cunniffe – underwent a vigorous fitness test on a troubling hamstring injury as rain clouds gathered overhead.
But, having swapped one of Gaelic football’s more notorious droughts for one of its newer ones, the veteran was determined to play his part and survived to start.
The first six minutes saw as many scores shared between the sides as the patrons were treated to a scintillating opening to the 2017 championship. Sligo’s Neil Ewing had got the show on the road within 30 seconds with a smart point but Daniel McKenna responded immediately, veteran Mark Breheny and Eugene McVerry then sharing frees with nerves hard found in the Bronx air.
The experience of Breheny – beginning his 18th Championship season here – was going to be key as Carew’s men looked to avoid ending up as a punchline. While Keelan Cawley chose to forego the game’s first goal chance for another point soon after, by the time the contest finally began to settle on 20 minutes, Sligo were 0-9 to 0-4 ahead, Paddy O’Connor, Stephen Coen John Kelly and Adrian Marren getting on the scoresheet with McVerry’s frees keeping New York in touch.
Sligo could have been further clear but for Vinny Cadden, their countryman keeping guard between the hosts’ posts, brilliantly tipping a clever Breheny effort on to the post and away.
It was a moment that gave the underdogs a visible boost and as the heavens finally opened and the ball began to skip across the synthetic surface, the flow of the contest was willed back New York’s way.
Shane Hogan, the only US born starter in their line-up, took command in midfield and former Dublin hurler Danny Sutcliffe’s class with the bigger ball began to shine. With McVerry and Conor McGraynor’s accuracy from dead balls paying off, the margin was clawed all the way in.
New York were down by just two points at the break. Having trailed Roscommon by double that margin last year only to come within inches of history, both sides knew this was far from over.
Sligo tried to inch forward with a pair of quick points but a contest in which a goal would have been huge got one on 45 minutes – and it lit up the Bronx.
Keith Quinn floated a free deep into the Sligo defence, substitute Shane O’Connor soared to knock it down to McVerry and he oozed calm as he slotted home. Six minutes later, New York had their first lead with a booming Wherity score. Gaelic Park was alive and Sligo needed to stem the tide.
Impressively their veterans did so, a Marren brace and Kelly putting them back in front. Then came Cawley’s decisive goal. Wing back Eoin McHugh – superb throughout– burst through the New York defence to feed Cawley who ended the game as a contest.
Carew could only have been pleased with how his side saw it out from there. He may only have two weeks to get to grips with the prospect of Mayo in Castlebar but escaping ignominy in the Bronx will do for now.
NEW YORK: V Cadden; T Cunniffe, D Cunnane, P Witherow; G McCartan, D Culhane (0-1), K Quinn; B Gallagher, S, Hogan (0-1); D Sutcliffe; C McGraynor (0-2, frees), R Wherity (0-1); D McKenna (0-1), S O’Connor, E McVerry (1-5, 0-5 frees). Subs: E Flanagan for Cunnane (20mins); Boyle (0-1) for McCartan (ht); K Connolly (0-1) for McGraynor (45 mins); D Freeman for Hogan (57); E Ward for O’Connor (62 mins); R McGinley for Cunniffe (65 mins).
SLIGO: A Devaney (0-1, 45); R Donovan, C Harrison, E McHugh; Keelan Cawley (0-1), B Egan, J Kelly (0-2); P O’Connor (0-2), A McIntyre; N Ewing (0-1), M Breheny (0-5, 0-3 frees), Kyle Cawley (1-1, 0-1 free); S Coen (0-3, frees), P Hughes, A Marren (0-5, 0-2 frees). Subs: D Kelly for Hughes (24mins); N Gaughan for (28mins); S Gilmartin for O’Connor (48 mins); C Breheny for Kelly (BC, 50 mins); C Henry for Breheny (58 mins); D Cummins for Kyle Cawley (68mins).
Referee: David Gough (Meath)