Greg McCartan enjoying Fulham Irish role in London
By Cian O’Connell
Glory was tasted during the salad Pete McGrath years, but all the time the thing that mattered deeply to Greg McCartan was the game.
That is why McCartan will stand on the sideline at McGovern Park, Ruislip on Sunday managing London Irish against Corofin in the AIB All Ireland Club SFC Quarter-Final.
A panelist in Down’s 1991 triumph, McCartan was a key figure three years later when Sam Maguire was hoisted once more. Thrilling tales will always be told, but since moving to London permanently in March 2016 McCartan has added a couple of chapters to the budding Fulham Irish story.
McCartan guided Fulham Irish, only formed in 2006, to their second London Championship this year beating perennial contenders Tir Chonaill Gaels in the decider. “They won one six years ago and the club is only really going a decade or so,” McCartan says about Fulham Irish’s development.
“They had won one, but we are a very young club, we are a coming club. We wouldn't have the facilities of TCG, they can get washed and have food after training we get ready along the side of a ditch, we throw our gear down. If it rains we throw it down in the back of my van.
“With guys travelling from all over Canary Wharf and other areas it is tough, it isn't like we are living in Willesden and it is local for us.
“We train at Wormwood Scrubs jail, at the grounds at their jail. It is brilliant because we have a good and talented squad. We lost 10 players last season, but we added to it this year. We got in smashing players, who have played a huge part in getting us over the line this year.”
Corofin, All Ireland Club champions in 2015, visit Ruislip at the weekend, and McCartan is relishing the game. “Absolutely, sometimes people talk about bonus territory, you have one of the most famous teams in Ireland, certainly over the past 10 years or so,” McCartan admits.
“They have come to the fore in All Ireland club matches, now we have a chance to entertain them here in London on Sunday, it is probably something we could only dream about at the start of the season. I spoke at the start of the season about winning the London Championship, we set out our stall to do that.
“You don't think about what comes on the back of it at that stage. When we were talking then we didn't even know it would be the Connacht champions, it could have been Slaughtneil, it could have been Crossmaglen or anybody, but it has turned out to be the Connacht champions which are Corofin. It is a really nice problem to have, I suppose.”
During the past few years the emergence of homegrown players in the London panel is a source of significant pride, but the current Fulham Irish senior set-up are all Irish born.
“We have all Irish guys, I know TCG would have home based and a lot of the others do too because they are established clubs, who have been around a long time,” McCartan explains. “Their parents have been involved so they have come up through the ranks. Our club is quite a young club so it is just ex pats living over here.
“We basically have guys working in the city and Fulham is handy for that because it is NW1 which is handy for them living in the city. It is a young club, it wouldn't have the history of TCG or some of the other clubs from Neasden or places like that.
“We are going in the right direction. What we are trying to do with Liam Barry, John Doyle, and Brendan Dolan, who are the mainstays of the club, and Jim Clair is to try to create something. They are trying to make it better for everyone, to get it off the ground.
“There is a lot of working going in behind the scenes. I came over here for work in March 2016, Marty Hughes, who plays on the team got in contact with me. He knew I was over, he asked me to come along, to help out. I have been here ever since. I've been here 18 months or so now.”
It can be a demanding task preparing a team in London for these type of encounters, but McCartan is heartened by Fulham Irish’s response since winning the county title. “It is tough, I will be honest, it has been very tough for the past eight weeks to keep that momentum going,” McCartan states.
“Our games were coming two, three, four weeks at a time in the Championship, and you'd have League games in between so it was very easy to keep players interested. Once the curtain came down on the Championship final we realised we had eight weeks to mess about which is hard when you're trying to keep boys interested.”
So McCartan and the Fulham Irish committee stitched a plan together. “Thankfully they bought into it, we played London in challenge matches twice, our thanks to Ciaran Deely for that,” McCartan adds.
“We also played St Mary's in Ireland. Every man, 23 of us, paid our own money; 150 quid each, we flew over on a Saturday morning we played St Mary's, Paddy Tally's team, in a challenge match. We stayed over in Cookstown that night, we went to Owen Mulligan's bar, we made a good weekend out of it. We got a good run out against Paddy's St Mary's team.
“The amount of effort the boys have put in has been unbelievable. To be honest driving in London back and forward can be tough.
“I live three miles from the training ground, but I could be one hour or 45 minutes travelling, at times it can be stressful, it can be hard, but I think on Sunday at 1 o'clock when the ball is thrown-in it will all be worth it. Being in that changing room before the game means it will all be worth it. Corofin will be in town so it is a big day for us.”
Since his own playing career ended McCartan, always synonymous with Castlewellan, has enjoyed being involved with teams forging a connection with Longstone.
“I managed Longstone for two seasons, Mark Poland's club,” McCartan says. “My mother is from Longstone so I have a bit of a connection with them. I was managing them, but then got a job in Liverpool with a firm I worked for so I couldn't turn the work down.
“It meant then that I had to cut my ties with Longstone which was disappointing because they were a great bunch of lads. I worked in Liverpool for about 16 or 18 months, went back home again for a while and a couple of clubs had approached me, but with work I could be five weeks at home then away for a month then back home again so that was tough. I would be really big into commitment, giving it a lash.
“There is no point in me standing in the changing room giving a speech about commitment and then five weeks later saying I've got to go and thanks for your trouble son. Until I could properly do it I couldn't commit to any club.
“I helped St John's out a couple of years ago, one night a week for a while, but again I knew I would be going away. I've been here ever since and most of my work is in the London area at the moment.”
McCartan doesn’t have to deal with too much talk about his own illustrious career, especially now that Owen Mulligan is Fulham Irish’s talisman in attack.
“Not so much, some of the older guys would know that I played football,” McCartan laughs when asked whether his own playing days are discussed much in London.
“Some of the younger ones were hardly born, at least six or seven weren't even born when I was playing so they don't remember too much of me. They remember Owen, who is obviously a huge part of our team. He is playing really well for us, he is a great addition to the Fulham club.
“His commitment to the team, his drive, his desire, his training, he is in brilliant shape. The players would know much more about Tyrone than they would about me, I was way back in the day sort of thing.”
Having Mulligan involved has been extremely helpful to the Fulham Irish cause according to McCartan.
“Exactly, the way he conducts himself,” McCartan responds instantly. “A lot of people say to me, 'Ah, I hear Mulligan is over, a bit of a madman is he?' Nothing could be further from the truth, honestly, he isn't the type of character even I maybe thought he was.
“He is a really genuine guy, he enjoys the company of the players, the players enjoy him and his experience. This is good for Owen too, he never got a Club Championship Senior medal. I think he got one with Fr Rocks, who got to an Intermediate Club Final one time against Paul Galvin's team (Finuge).
“He had never won a Senior Championship so he had a chance to win one. I was looking at one of the papers at a photograph at an article and it said AIB All Ireland Club Championship. To have Fulham Irish beside AIB All Ireland Club Championship is just fantastic for us.
“It is probably the last time it is going to happen because next year the winners of London go into the Connacht Club Championship, they won't meet the provincial winners. This is it, this is the last time a London team will probably have a chance to go to an All Ireland semi-final proper so it is nice.”
Still finding joy in the journey, McCartan remains relevant to the sport he continues to serve in London.