London calling for Fulham Irish
By Cian O'Connell
For a club only formed 11 and a half years ago, Fulham Irish are motoring smoothly on the GAA fields in London.
Sunday's third appearance in a London SFC Final for what promises to be an interesting tussle at Ruislip is the latest encouraging sign.
That two former All Ireland winners, Down's Gregory McCartan and Tyrone's Owen Mulligan are involved merely adds another layer of intrigue.
McCartan is Fulham Irish's manager, while Mulligan occupies a key role in attack. John Doyle, one of the founders of the club alongside Liam Barry and Mike Rice, has served in several different roles for Fulham Irish.
Silverware has been attained, but challenges always exist according to Doyle. "Fulham Irish GAA has won 24 major trophies since 2006, 11 Ladies football, nine Gaelic Football and four hurling," Doyle says.
"We have had coaching in schools in Fulham and created a network for the area for young Irish people coming to London who want to participate in the Irish culture. That is the real measure of success.
"Leveraging the network and creating the framework to allow teams to secure those wins is the biggest benefit of an effective network."
Fulham Irish, though, have been forced to make difficult decisions with the Ladies team folding at the end of last year. "Unfortunately, things don't always work out as you would anticipate it working," Doyle adds.
"The schools coaching has dropped due to lack of interest in the schools and without young profile, we have struggled to produce the coaches who would drive a youth set-up.
"We believe this will develop in time as the club gain a bigger pool of ex players who have settled for the longer term in the area."
Doyle has spent nearly three decades in London, the landscape has changed significantly. "London has suffered a dramatic fall in the number of players coming to London over the last couple of years," Doyle comments.
"London has become a very expensive city to live in, so the young Irish are looking at other UK cities and further a field for their move abroad.
"Heston Gaels folded as a club at the start of 2017 and you can see clubs struggling for numbers across the city.
"One noticeable trend this year was that for midweek games, teams have plenty of subs togged out while at the weekend, plenty of teams played with just the bare team."
Players come and go in London, but Doyle feels that a good spirit exists presently at Fulham Irish. "The turnover of the players can be high, but we have a huge number of the past players still living in London and still supporting the club," Doyle admits.
"David Connolly was one of the first players to transfer to Fulham Irish in 2006. He started the 2006 and 2011 Championship finals and in 2017 lined out in the Reserve Championship final."
Obstacles always need to be cleared so Doyle is enthused by how Fulham Irish are managing a couple of pitches at Wormwood Scrubs.
"Fulham Irish GAA work closely with Hammersmith and Fulham Council to maintain 2 full sized GAA pitches at Wormwood Scrubs," Doyle says.
"The pitches are the best in London outside the county ground at Ruislip. With really good drainage, the pitches are always playable and during the development work at Ruislip, a good number of games in London were played there in 2017."
The Tyrone influence is strong with Peter Canavan helping to train Fulham Irish in 2015 with the highly respected Benny Hurl.
"Peter has been a great friend of Fulham Irish from the early days through his friendship with Club President, Seamus McNelis.
"Peter and his sidekick, Benny Hurl, put huge effort into the team in 2015 and were unlucky to lose the Championship semi-final.
"The London CCC played their part too, arranging the Fulham Irish games around Peter's schedule with Sky Sports. It was great to have such a high profile GAA man participating in London."
Now Mulligan is an influential figure. "Owen has had a super and positive impact on Fulham Irish GAA and the London team too in 2017," Doyle acknowledges.
"Owen hasn't missed a game for Fulham Irish all year and he is so enthusiastic about playing. When Owen talks, the rest of the lads listen."
Doyle has played his part in keeping Gaelic Games strong in London. Doyle highlights the emergence of Tir Chonaill Gaels Liam Gavaghan and Philip Butler as homegrown London footballers as a hugely positive development.
"The work done to redevelop Ruislip has been the main achievement and the elevation of London born players like Liam Gavaghan and Philip Butler to the county team is real progress," Doyle states.
"From a Fulham Irish GAA specific perspective, working to include GAA starts like Canavan, Mulligan, and McCartan in the network gives members a sense of pride and encourages sponsors to be associated with the club." The hard graft continues.