“I don’t plan on being home for another year or so. I love it and my visa is good until the end of November and I’ll look for an extension at that stage.”
Those were the words of St Columba’s, Mullinalaghta and Longford footballer JJ Matthews who, since February 24, 2014, has made New York his new home.
Employed as a bartender at Behan’s Pub, 4299 Katonah Ave, Bronx and John Sullivan’s Bar & Grill at 35th and 7th in Manhattan, JJ had double reason to return to Irish soil at the end of August last year – to get his visa sorted and to bolster Mullinalaghta’s bid for a first county title since 1950.
Mullinalaghta duly qualified for their first final appearance in 62 years and although JJ contributed three points on October 6 at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, it was Killoe Emmet Og that prevailed by 2-11 to 0-10.
“Unfortunately we got the wrong result,” he reflected, adding, “I’ve no regrets about moving to New York. Regret is not winning a county championship last summer at home when I put in the effort and it just didn’t happen. The following Wednesday after the county final I flew back out so it was a disappointing plane journey. The only thing you can do is move on and hopefully Mullinalaghta can win it this year.”
Unlike last year, JJ won’t be returning to assist his club’s cause. “No. I definitely won’t be back this year. I completed the full inter-county transfer. I’d love to say I would but it is out the window at this stage. Last year, I got a sanction so I could come and go but this year I’ve a full transfer. Maybe in another two years I might be back.”
24-year-old JJ plays in the NY Junior championship with Longford (his Mullinalaghta club mate Kevin Mulligan also plays with Longford NY) and the NY Senior championship with Monaghan (Paul O’Hara from Killoe and Kevin Smyth of Abbeylara played with them last year). His heart still beats proudly for Mullinalaghta. “You’d like to be there. Kevin Mulligan is out here as well. James McGivney is in Australia now so hopefully they can get him back for the championship. But there are still a lot of young lads, there is Aidan McElligott, David McGivney, the younger brother Jayson while Shane Mulligan is an exceptional leader on the team.”
JJ, who graduated with a Business Degree from the National College of Ireland, returned to spend last Christmas with his family and says that thanks to Skype, Facebook and Twitter he has little difficulty keeping in contact with home. “I do Skype Mammy, (Marie), and Daddy, (John), twice a week. They knew I was always going to go. I went to San Francisco in 2010 to play ball in the summer so I have the travel bug.”
With plentiful employment opportunities in the Green Apple and elsewhere in the US like Chicago and Boston, JJ predicts that more Longford folk will depart their native shore. “It is easy to get a graduate 14 month visa. Maybe older players might be against the idea but I don’t see a reason why younger players can’t go and experience life in NY, Chicago or Boston. Emlyn Mulligan is out in Boston playing ball for six months. Brian Kavanagh was out with us last summer.”
JJ has one sister, Amanda, and two brothers, Jayson and Myles. Amanda previously lined out with Longford ladies, while Jayson featured in Longford’s recent wins over Wicklow and Carlow in the Electric Ireland Leinster MFC.
Working from 6pm to 4am four days per week, means life isn’t easy in NY for JJ, even more so when you are in training. He scored a point in NY’s recent 0-8 to 2-18 Connacht Championship loss against Galway at Gaelic Park in The Bronx.
JJ’s mum, Marie is a Cavan native, while he also received his primary education at Mullahoran NS, so when Cavan arrived in NY for a couple of matches, he renewed acquaintance with many familiar faces. “I was marking Cillian ‘The Gunner’ Brady and I would have went to national school with Cillian and with Enda Reilly - Enda is a far out relation - so I would have known a few of them. I went to San Fran four years ago with Martin Dunne and Gearoid McKiernan. We could have done with three or four more of those type of games. For teams playing against NY, everyone says ‘ah shur, it will be a walkover’. We just don’t get competitive games. This year we’d a few exceptional footballers in PJ Banville (Wexford), Niall McFeely (Derry), Darren Freeman (Monaghan) and Brian Connor (Offaly) so there is no reason why NY can’t take a scalp.”
JJ shares an apartment with Brian Connor (Offaly) and former Longford mid-fielder, Ballinalee’s Martin Brady, who works in Jack Doyle’s Bar, where another Ballinalee man Brendan Donoghue is part owner. He says there are big local connections with the Longford NY set-up, including Micheal Ledwith (Abbeylara), Dermot Yorke (Carrickedmond, manages the team), Cormac McCormack (Ballymahon) and Finbar O’Neill (Longford Slashers).
In 2011, JJ helped Mullinalaghta capture their third county U-21 ‘B’ football title in succession and earlier that year he was on the Longford U-21 side that lost to Wexford by 0-11 to 1-9 in the Leinster Final at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. He regards this reversal, alongside last year’s county senior final defeat, as the biggest regrets of his career to-date.
“It was there for the taking. We came through the hard side of the draw. Meath beat Dublin and we beat them even though we were given no hope and then Westmeath and I don’t think we looked into Wexford as much as we did our opponents in the earlier games and maybe that caught us in the end.”
Longford went on to reach another Leinster U-21 Final in 2013, this time losing to Kildare, and JJ believes that with these younger players coming into the senior panel Longford can push on and the target is to get a result against Offaly.
A former student of Cnoc Mhuire, Granard, JJ helped Mullinalaghta to their 8th Leader Cup success, their first since 1951, when they defeated Longford Slashers by 1-9 to 0-11 in December, 2013.
He spent a number of seasons on the Longford senior squad, winning Division 4 and Division 3 league medals in 2011 & 2012, and scored 1-2 in a 2-14 to 0-8 All-Ireland SFC qualifier win over Limerick on June 29, 2013 in Pearse Park. Longford subsequently exited the championship at the hands of a Wexford side that included his now NY team mate PJ Banville.
JJ will be heading to Las Vegas in July to watch mixed martial artist Conor ‘The Notorious’ McGregor in action and if Mullinalaghta were in a county final tomorrow he said, “I’d definitely be flying home for it. The unfortunate thing is I can’t play.”