Danny Hughes: Lure of the USA is proving harder and harder to resist

Action from last weekend's Championship opener between New York and Sligo. Danny Hughes argues that it is becoming more and more difficult for county players to resist the urge to play stateside after, or even before, a Championship exit Picture by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

INCREASINGLY, the first potential upset of the Championship tends to start brewing in New York rather than Newbridge or Newry.

Last year, Roscommon got through by the skin of their teeth, while on Sunday, Sligo had their nervy moments before escaping with a win.

Whether you blame jet-lag or the general holiday vibe around the trip Stateside, it is increasingly obvious that underdogs New York aren’t far away from a first Connacht Championship win.

Nearly every county in Ireland is represented in New York.

Ex-county player Keith Quinn from Mayobridge was playing last Sunday last and, boy, could Down be doing with him against Armagh in a month’s time.

Another ex-county player Eugene McVerry could equally have been part of Kieran McGeeney’s plans on June 4 had the lure of a good life and well-paid work in the USA not been available to him.

When I see young potential county players and really good club players leave these shores for a summer in the States, I envy their age and opportunities.

Increasingly, county football is becoming a bit of a chore to the inter-county ‘talent’ who recognises that the county team have few prospects of winning anything so decides that the healthy travel expenses,

well-paid job and superstar status of a being the best player of a club team in the US is much more attractive.

When you start working full-time, buy a house and settle down with the picket fence, reality dictates that these opportunities are just not an option anymore.

I cared about what people thought – too much for my own good, I might add.

With the benefit of life experience and having been knocked down a few times, I take a much more relaxed and carefree attitude to the opinions of others.

I never went to America, much to my regret, as I always thought that the club deserved everything I had after Down were out of the Championship.

I always thought the county manager would frown on a move Stateside immediately after the end of a campaign.

I presumed that this would be memory-banked and would affect my chances of being in the panel the following year.

Inevitably, some of my colleagues did go Stateside, and unfairly the whispers were rife that the trips were booked before the Championship even started. This inevitably resulted in cries of disloyalty, even if it was far from the truth.

Now, I think county managers are considerably more flexible and understanding about the idea of a county player heading away travelling or working in the USA for the summer.

Making that decision in my day usually meant the player didn’t get another look-in while that manager remained in charge of the county team.

Even your fellow inter-county players looked on it negatively. Now it seems to be the opposite.

When you look at Jack McCaffery, Dublin’s former Footballer of the Year, returning from a year out travelling, then going straight back into the Dublin panel, you think to yourself, ‘you bloody lucky git’.

Not only can he take the time out to explore the world, complete charity work and travel, but he also gets the opportunity to come back into an All-Ireland winning team, with his All-Ireland medal, Allstar and Footballer of the Year accolade to boot.

Aside from the Allstar, I have none of that and missed travelling the world into the bargain.

My fellow colleagues and I didn’t have the luxury of picking and choosing when we could return into a winning culture and set-up.

You had to toil away year on year taking the chance that every year was ‘the one’.

In the movie Layer Cake, Michael Gambon’s character Eddie Temple explains the “facts of life” to a fellow gangster, played by Daniel Craig:

“You’re born, you take ****.

“You go out into the world, you take more ****.

“You climb a bit higher, until one day, you reach the atmosphere and by that time, you forget what **** even looks like.”

That’s the way I saw county football for the majority of players outside the top teams.

You wish for that one day when you will break through and win major honours and you don’t want to miss that occasion, so you always live with the hope and burning desire to keep playing, training, competing.

The last thing you want to do is miss out.

For those Tipperary players who exiled themselves last year, it must have been at best bittersweet – though I would go further and say sickening – that they missed days such as the quarter-final win over Galway.

To a degree, that is why I empathised so much with Donegal’s Kevin Cassidy in 2012, who was kicked off the panel by Jim McGuinness the previous winter.

It must have been so difficult to see Donegal winning an All-Ireland knowing you could have played in every game.

To have an All-Ireland taken away from you in the manner he did must live with him every day.

For those individuals who haven’t experienced the bubble of inter-county football and the commitment it takes to get to that level could never imagine the hurt Cassidy felt.

I admired Jim McGuinness for what he did during his tenure as Donegal manager. I admire the man still.

In any victory, in war or sport, there is collateral damage and I think that Cassidy was just that.

McGuinness tarnished his legacy in the treatment of his former team-mate. I think he knew that when he asked him back before the 2012 Championship.

Life is a series of choices, as we all know. When you choose to play club and county football, particularly nowadays, you choose to play a game which is so pre-occupied with defensive systems that it’s difficult to get any enjoyment out of it as a player.

Whereas in the US of A, it’s the bling, it’s the Allstar status, it’s the glamour.

Playing with a hangover is par for the course.

It’s enjoyable. It’s life experience. It’s hard to argue with that.

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