For the New York Gaelic football squad, Sunday’s Connacht Championship encounter with Mayo presents an opportunity to rub shoulders with one of the greatest sides of a generation.
Nobody is giving them a hope in hell of winning and why should they, the last time James Horan’s side came stateside they left with a comprehensive victory. However, since then, New York have improved considerably. It took a late score from Noel Plunkett last season to edge Leitrim home and they fell by a single point in 2016 against Roscommon.
For New York veteran, Shane Hogan, they have nothing to lose when they take on the Allianz Football League champions this weekend.
Their goal is to make Mayo as uncomfortable as possible in the Bronx.
“Our goal is to try and make this game as uncomfortable for Mayo as we can. If we could be in with a shout with only a few minutes left I think it’s only going to be on us. We should really be playing with no pressure because there are no expectations on us and it’s all on Mayo, they have to travel over and they are the ones that are supposed to win so it’s all on them,” Hogan told Pundit Arena.
“If the underdog was to always lose then why would you even try so you know this is about as big as an underdog as you could possibly get but we’re going to give it our all on the day and hopefully it will work out for us. I know regardless of the result everyone is going to be proud of what we’re able to accomplish just hopefully the result will reflect the hard work that we’ve put into this.”
A self-confessed ‘mutt’. Hogan’s father, Eddie, hails from Roscrea, Co. Tipperary while his mother’s grandparents emigrated from Roscommon and Meath respectively. Gaelic Games has been in his life since the age of five and he clearly comes from good stock as his father won an All-Ireland minor medal with Tipperary hurlers back in 1980, alongside one Nicky English.
“My dad is from Roscrea, Tipperary and my grandparents on my mother’s side are from Elphin, Roscommon and Oldcastle in Meath so I’m a little bit of a mutt, I’m from all over,” Hogan said.
“I’ve been playing now since I was five, my dad has been my coach throughout, he was more of a hurler though, he won an All-Ireland minor back in 1980 with Tipp. My dad, my mom, my grandparents they’ve all kind of pushed me towards playing Gaelic football and I’m greatful they did.”
Lead by Justin O’Halloran, Hogan feels it is important that they put a performance in this weekend to highlight the hard work put in by the manager and his backroom team.
“Yeah, they’re working as hard as we are. Justin is our main man he’s putting in a colossal effort, he’s been doing a great job ever since he came back into the fold. Mick Stones and Owen McPhillips and Pat Magill they’re our backroom team and they’re just giving us the confidence that we need.
“Just trying to keep our heads level trying to keep us calm before this game and our trainer is doing a great job, Ray Houlihan, from Mayo. So, hopefully, we can show their hard work and it’ll pay off.”
Hogan is one of six native New Yorkers lining out this weekend and the number of locals on the squad is the highest it’s ever been. Hogan puts this down to the massive work going on within the GAA community in New York in order to ensure that Gaelic Games has a future in the popular American state.
“There’s six now this year, one of the highest I’ve seen. Myself, Shane Slattery who’ll be making his debut, Ryan Kerley, Tiarnan Mathers, Pat Guerin and of course, Mike Creegan who’s there as well. He’s a bit like the old head on the team very experienced,” Hogan said.
“When I was younger there was probably like seven or eight clubs but now they are up to about 15, they are sending teams all the way back to Ireland now like our U16 teams to play other county teams so the minor board is doing an excellent job over here it is certainly a lot more developed now than when I was growing up.”
Their backs are to the wall every year and Hogan admits it is hard for them to compete given the lack of game time they get.
“Of course, our biggest problem as people have told me and I’ve told them is our lack of games and that pretty much stems from the financial cost and that we’re not able to really send a lot of players back home due to visa reasons,” Hogan said.
“If we could somehow get a team that is mostly legal or teams that are willing to travel maybe we could get a few more games in, maybe we could travel over to Ireland and play a team or two in a week and that would be nothing but beneficial.”
Having a team that is ‘mostly legal’ is more than likely going to come by way of having more players like Hogan on the team. Born and raised New Yorkers with a grá for GAA.
He admits that growing Gaelic Games in New York and inspiring a future generation of Irish-Americans to take up the game is what drives him on year after year.
“It’s one of those things that really keeps bringing me back. Even if I never win a county game, if I can just keep it going for kids that want to come up and play for New York and hopefully one day we’ll have enough American born players and if it could be a predominantly American team I think that could only help,” Hogan said.
“Somebody told me that the last time Mayo came out they still have about 14 guys on the panel from the last time they visited New York whereas we have 1 or 2 I think. With that high turnover, it’s tough to try and build for the future so if we could keep this together and keep moving forward with this group of guys it would only be beneficial for us.”