During Jamie Boyle's time at the University of Central Florida, there was regular chatter about their football team playing at Croke Park. For the team's punter and kicker, the venue meant more than others. He grew up playing Gaelic football. Now, a decade on from leaving UCF, he is the New York football captain.
This weekend, Boyle - one of around 10 American-born players on the panel - will lead New York as they face Offaly in the quarter-finals of the Tailteann Cup. The 30-year-old has taken a meandering route to inter-county football.
He has strong Irish connections. His grandparents, originally from Donegal town, moved to the US in the 60s, had nine children, and raised them in Manhattan.
"They had a Gaelic football club there called Good Shephard," Boyle explains.
"All my aunts and uncles grew up playing. When all my uncles and everybody had kids, everybody got thrown into Gaelic.
"My parents grew up in the city, and once they had me and my siblings, they moved up state, like an hour outside the city. There was no Gaelic football club up there, so my dad had to start one with some other guys.
"Seán Reilly, he's on the panel as well, he was my best friend growing up. Me and him ushered in the St Brendan's Football Club. That was pretty cool because nobody knew who we were.
"The heart of it would have been a lot of the Irish second generation kids. My Dad was the coach, he was driving around the neighbourhoods picking up anybody he could just to field the 15 - so we had basketball players, hockey players, basically anybody we could grab. I don’t think we had anybody who was Irish-born on the team, everybody was American.
"A lot of the Americans would be like, ‘What are you guys going to play?’ We’d say, ‘It’s Irish football.’ And they’d be, ‘So it’s like rugby?’ We’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s rugby'.
"My age group never lost all the way up through U16. A lot of us stopped playing after that."
When his high school American football coach went in search of a kicker, Boyle answered the call. Kicking a size five around for the previous decade gave him basics many other Americans didn't have.
"I was like, ‘How hard can that be?’" says Boyle, who played with future NFL quarterback Blake Bortles at UCF.
"So my sophomore year at high school I started kicking American football. I had a really good year and I started getting some college interest. So I dropped soccer and I kept playing American football. I actually went to college to kick, so kind of continued doing that down in Florida. I was decent at that.
"I had difficulty getting on the field the first few years, just the competition was extremely tough. My last year though I had a strong senior year.
"Everybody does pro days, all the NFL coaches would come down to your school and you do all the tests in front of them. But it’s so tough especially for a kicker in the NFL, because there are only 32 spots for a guy kicking field goals, only 32 spots for punters, so it’s extremely competitive.
"I had some of their scouts come down and emailing me, but just being honest, I’d say almost every division one kid is getting those looks and that kind of correspondence, so nothing serious to be honest."
Boyle's Gaelic football career was diverted at 16 when he started to generate interest from college teams. "I was going away every weekend to train, go to camps and go to scouting combines for American Football kicking," he says.
"So I stopped at U-16 and didn't play all through college. I moved back to New York and got a job and played but didn't really put a full effort into it. I was playing with Donegal New York for a year and a half when I was 22/23. I didn't play at all then until I was 28 when I came back with St. Barnabas."
The Covid-19 pandemic wiped the New York football panel virtually clean. The team which faced Sligo in the Connacht Championship in April bore little resemblance to the one which played Mayo three years previous. Boyle, in his first year with the New York seniors, works as a project manager for a construction company.
"From December to April, you have to leave work at five, just to get to training," says Boyle.
"It gets dark and cold early, a lot of nights we had snow on the ground here, we were shovelling snow off Gaelic Park the first few Sundays we had scrimmages there. So that was definitely like a mental battle, staying tough through that, and just getting through it, but it was definitely a hurdle."
Salthill-Knocknacarra - without any of their county senior or U20 players - travelled to New York for a game in March. The Galway club side won by a point, putting real doubts into the minds of the New York panel about the challenge to come against Sligo. Still, Boyle says they went into that game with a measure of confidence, and despite losing 1-16 to 0-15, they were buoyed, knowing they would be getting another championship day out in the Tailteann Cup.
New York, due to the logistics of travel, were given byes past the preliminary and first rounds into the quarter-finals. They've spent the past six weeks using in-house A vs B games, and ones against the New York juniors, tuning themselves for next weekend's opponents.
Boyle readily admits that he hasn't watched too much of Offaly. With Monday being a public holiday in the US, his plan was to throw on a few games involving John Maughan's side.
New York trying to change the narrative
The New York panel fly to Dublin on Wednesday night, landing early on Thursday morning. They'll take in trips to Armagh to visit the home club of their manager Johnny McGeeney, and to Down where five panel members are originally from.
In 2014, the University of Central Florida finally did get to play that game at Croke Park. It came two years too late for Boyle. Though, a victory over Offaly this weekend would mean New York returning to Ireland for the semi-finals at GAA headquarters.
"It’s all anybody ever talks about over here," says Boyle when asked what it would mean for New York to win their first championship game,
"I think it would change the narrative. We saw it a little bit from our point of view with London this year in the League. They started winning. I think they won the first three games.
"I don’t know if the narrative is the same with New York and London over there but at least to us, it felt like it was us and them, the outsiders and we’re almost... it was nice to see them winning. Teams have to respect them now when they come in.
"That’s what we’re hoping to do. We’re hoping to change it from whoever draws us and has to come out here, they think it’s just a vacation and it’s a trip to go see New York and have a good time. We’re trying to change that so it’s, ‘Shit, man, we’re in for a serious game here when we go out to New York’."