GAA Football

Sky the limit for Niall Madine as New York plot Mayo downfall in Connacht Championship opener

Niall Madine's last appearance for Down came in Championship defeat to Cavan last summer. He will captain New York against Mayo this Sunday. Picture by Sportsfile
Neil Loughran

LOOKING up is something that comes naturally to Niall Madine, so it’s no surprise that he is relishing rather than dreading the visit of National League champions Mayo to New York this weekend.

A surveyor with Bronx-based contractor Trident, the 26-year-old spends most of his working days considering plans for skyscrapers to add to the world’s most famous skyline.

“We’re just finishing the tallest building in Brooklyn,” he says, “Brooklyn Point it’s going to be called. We’re on the 60th floor at the moment, I think there’s only one more to go.

“The company takes a building from foundation right up to its peak height. I’m part of the surveying team so we would lay out the axis lines and all that there… just basically making sure the building’s straight is our job.”

A spark by trade, the bustling Saval forward – who made his Championship bow for Down in 2013 - had initially intended moving to Liverpool to do a PGCE upon completion of his sports studies course at Ulster University.

But when the opportunity of a return to the Big Apple - where he spent the summers of 2015 and 2016 – came along, it was an easy decision for Madine to make.

“It’s something I’m interested in where there’s potential to rise up too, so I decided to give it a shot. I’ll definitely stay here and give it a good crack.

“To be honest, I can see myself living here. I’d maybe move home for a year some time but I don’t know that I’ll ever live in Ireland again. It’s a great city and, having spent two summers out here, I just fell in love with the place.”

As a result he is not part of Paddy Tally’s panel as the clock ticks down to their Ulster Championship date with neighbours Armagh on May 19, but has instead been named captain of Justin O’Halloran’s New York collective.

There is a strong Ulster contingent backboning the Cavan native’s panel that includes Madine’s fellow Mournemen Gerard McCartan, Paddy Boyle and Ollie McClean, Armagh’s Tony Donnelly, Conor Connolly and Peter Hatzer and Derry’s Niall McFeely among others.

Further inter-county experience comes in the form of Roscommon’s Cathal Compton and Offaly’s Luke Kelly, but the scale of the task facing New York is considerable, not least because of Mayo’s exploits through the Spring.

James Horan’s men ended the county’s 18-year wait for a national title when they toppled Kerry in the Division One decider, and are being tipped as genuine contenders to end Dublin’s bid for five in-a-row.

It is a different feel to the build-up that has led into New York’s most recent Championship outings. Last year, Leitrim came within minutes of defeat before progressing after extra-time.

In 2017 bookmakers offered the shortest odds ever on a New York triumph since their introduction into the Connacht Championship in 1999, and they pushed Sligo hard before losing out down the straight.

This year, though, there has been no fairytale of New York talk, with Mayo 1/200 favourites to see off the exiles at Gaelic Park on Sunday evening.

Madine has watched some of their games during the National League from afar, but feels there is no point in building them up too much before crossing the white line.

“We’re under no illusions about the challenge we’re facing, but we have nothing to lose.

“I’ve been trying to talk to the players and tell them to go out there and play with no fear, do what you do best - don’t think of the occasion. There’s no point boys putting more pressure on themselves than what’s already on us.

“We’re looking forward to it, we’re working hard on our game-plan and hopefully everything goes well on the day.”

His last appearance in red and black came during Down’s All-Ireland qualifier exit to Cavan last June, coming on as a black card replacement for Connaire Harrison five minutes before the break.

Upon taking over from Eamonn Burns, Tally did reach out to Madine but, by that stage, he already knew his future lay elsewhere.

“Paddy phoned me but I had already decided to go away; I decided even before I finished my degree I was going away, so he wished me all the best.

“It’s always in the back of your mind I suppose. Leaving the club and the county is hard… you’d always be calling back home. I followed the boys through the National League and I’m still on the phone to my dad every Friday evening, seeing how Saval did.

“But sometimes you have to do what’s best for yourself and what’s best for me is to be out here in New York. Everyone supported me in making the decision and if I hadn’t made the move now, I probably never would have.”

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