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Playing a match in New York is surreal

Sport

ACTION MAN John Maughan, pictured here as Mayo manager in New York in 2004, took the team to the Catskill Mountains for a training camp afterwards. Pic: Sportsfile

Column

Billy Joe Padden

CHAMPIONSHIP football is always all about the game.
Whatever happens beforehand or afterwards is not important. But that’s before a player tries to get his head around playing New York every five years.
There’s nothing quite like the New York trip. The bus journeys, flights, hotels, functions, and a few days to be killed in one of the best cities in the world in the lead-up.
As a player you just want to get through the bloody thing, get the game played, win, and then try and have a bit of craic afterwards. That was my approach anyway!
I was in New York twice with Mayo as a player during my career, but it’s the first match that I remember most.
It was 2004, I’d played very little senior football for Mayo, and we knew we were staying on for a few days afterwards for a training camp up in the Catskill Mountains. That camp in itself was certainly memorable, mainly as it was so bloody hard!
I’ll never forget for as long as I live, certain players — who shall remain nameless — lying awake in bed at night, worrying about how hard John Maughan was going to train us the following day on a pitch in the middle of nowhere.
I know Mayo are staying on and train for a few days after the game next weekend as well, and there’s no doubt it’s a positive thing for team-building and team bonding.
But before all of that, you have to get to America.
And when you land, there’s going to be a run-out or a ‘loosener’ in some park or field. We did ours on a baseball diamond on a rock-hard surface that was good ‘prep’ for Gaelic Park a few days later.
I know the Mayo players have some official engagements to attend over the weekend, but you can be sure that they will want to do their own thing as much as possible.
I know back in our day, we just wanted to experience the sights and the sounds of New York in our own time.
Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely to meet some really nice, supportive and genuinely passionate Mayo people. But sometimes the time spent on traffic in a bus, and restrictions that were on you when you got there, led to some frustration among a few of us.
The bottom line is though that a certain responsibility and duty comes with being a Mayo footballer, especially when you’re out of the country like this.
And I would never have taken for granted the huge efforts that were made in New York to raise funds for Mayo teams that I was lucky enough to play on.  
The match itself is a surreal experience, but ultimately it’s the same rules, same ball, same size field as you play on at home, and these Mayo players are experienced and adaptable enough to cope.
One thing that was a bit odd back in our time was the crate of Bud’ that was left in the middle of the dressing-room after the match!
The players who are on their first trip to New York for a match will really enjoy the whole novelty and experience of it all. (Unless, of course, it all goes horribly wrong!)
That was certainly how it was for me anyway. You get to know your team-mates better, share a unique experience as a group, and have a great night out when the dust settles at Gaelic Park.
2009 was my last trip to New York with Mayo, and I knew it would be at the time. So that’s probably why I savoured everything that little bit more, especially the time I spent with my team-mates because I knew we wouldn’t be back there together again.  
And it really is the city that never sleeps!