BY CHRIS MCNULTY
CJ MOLLOY came back from the Bronx with high hopes of making an instant impact, but Donegal football has been a shock to the system.
Molloy, a nephew of Donegal’s All-Ireland winning captain from 1992, Anthony, was born and raised in New York, but the O’Neills was never far away.
Confidence spills off that unmistakable New York accent. Molloy was called in to train with the Donegal senior team during the summer and the full-forward hopes to catch the eye of the new Donegal manager, whoever that may be, in the coming weeks.
“I was in and out with Donegal in the summer and the whole thing is completely different over here,” he says.
“I notice a big difference in the cardiovascular fitness. I came over here like an NFL player.
“With some winter work, hopefully I’ll get better again. I enjoyed being in with Donegal. Jim was very good and the boys were good. It’s nice to be in playing with a very talented and committed group of players. It’s better than the half-hearted efforts in the States.
“I’d like to break into the Donegal squad. I’d need to lose a stone to be able to get up to the level of that up-and-down game. An inside forward can’t just loiter around the square anymore.”
Molloy spent his youthful summers between Ardara, Galway and Tralee, where the family have strong ties, but he only pulled on the Ardara jersey for the first time in the last year.
“I never played when I was here, but we’d always keep an eye back at home,” he says.
“We used to look out for the results and we’d be wondering why the score was so low – now I know why!”
Molloy will have little room to manoeuvre on Saturday afternoon when Ardara face their arch rivals, Naomh Conaill, in the quarter-finals of the Donegal senior football championship at Tir Chonaill Park.
The game is the same, but still he finds it a huge difference from his experiences at Gaelic Park.
“As an inside forward it isn’t too enjoyable,” he says.
“It sometimes feels like work rather than football.
“It’s intense. It’s competitive. It’s different to New York in a lot of ways. I’m getting more intelligent in the game. In New York, the measuring stick would have been how many you score. Here, you mightn’t score at all, but there are different ways of measuring the performance: How you effect the game by creating chances, bringing other players into the game or whatever.”
He might have been based on the far side of the Atlantic all his life, but the locals around Kentucky have him well schooled on their rivalry with their Glenties neighbours.
“I’m very familiar with it,” he says.
“We’ve had a couple of tasty encounters with them this year already. They beat us well in the second game, but the first game had a bit of bite to it.
“The Championship has been going well enough for us. Getting into the last eight was where we wanted to be. I’m looking forward to Sunday, absolutely. These are the games that I came back for, the big Championship games.
“That’s why I came over here, to get the proper games and the training. I don’t want to knock New York because they’re very good over there and are doing great work. You’re fighting a losing battle all the time and they don’t really get a fair crack at the whip and you have other factors, too – like the ridiculous winters in New York when the snow comes.”
Molloy played for New York teams in the All-Ireland Under-14 Feiles in 2002 (Carlow) and 2003 (Galway). He made his Galway senior debut in a 2008 defeat by Leitrim when he was 19.
The experiences were sometimes chastening, but at times New York flirted with the fanciful notion that they might eventually upset the odds.
He says: “We got close to Galway one year. Seamus Sweeney from St Michael’s was the manager. I had broken a foot before and was only as a sub that game. We lost by six points so I suppose it wasn’t that close. We had two men sent off though and we weren’t far off for a good part of the game.”
Having attended Fordham Prep, Molloy was given a basketball scholarship at Union College. He didn’t last too long. Gaelic Games came calling and Molloy answered. His father, Connie, helped foster the love of his native sport – and CJ has carried on in the family ways.
He says: “Football has always been there. I was dragged down there when I was about five years of age to the Celtics. I ditched the American sports to play Gaelic football. I had a scholarship and was quite good at basketball, but Gaelic football has just been there and I wanted to play the game.”