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Kilburn Gaels forward Stephen Lambert.

Kilburn Gaels forward Stephen Lambert.

Kilburn Gaels on the right road again


ByCianO’Connell


Itisnow30yearssinceTomBerginleftMoyneinTipperary,buttheGAAhasremainedaconstantinhislifeinLondon.KilburnGaelsandIrishhurlersintheEnglishcapitalcontinuetobenefitfromBergin’stimeandguidance.

KilburnGaelsmakeawelcomereturntotheLondonSHCFinalatMcGovernParkinRuislipagainstthreeinarowchasingRobertEmmetts.

HowKilburnGaelshaverejuvenatedthemselvesduringthecurrentcampaignisasourceofhopeandcomforttoBergin.“ItisnicetobebackinaCountyFinal,itis2014sincewewerethere,”Berginadmits.

“WehadtwobadyearsreallybecausewelostsomanyladsfromthetimewewontheChampionshipin2014.WegottotheAllIrelandIntermediateFinalearlyin2015,butwelost12ofthestartingteamfromthen.”

Thatparticularoutfitbrokeupfairlyquickly,butBerginwastherestitchinganewteamtogether,alwayscarryingsomehopeonthejourney.“Itwasgreatgettingtothefinal,butIremembersayingstraightafteritthatitputeveryoneintheshopwindowfortheirclubsathome,”Berginreflects.

“Itisexactlythewayitturnedoutwith12ofthestartingteamandthefollowingyearitwasmoreorlessstartingwithawholenewteamagain.Itwasastruggletostayupthenfortheyear,butwemanageditandwearebackinthefinalnowsowewillseehowwegeton.”

AstringofthatKilburnGaelspanelreturnedtothegreenandwhiteshirt,whichwasasignificantboostaccordingtoBergin.“Someoftheguysthathurledwithusinthatfinalwhotransferredbacktoplaywiththeirclubs,theywerestillworkinginLondon,wehaveacoupleofthemback,”Berginstates.

“Wehaveafewladsthathavebeenwithusforawhileandwegotashareofnewladsatthestartofthisyear.Itcanbeastruggletogetladsbecausethewaythingsareathome,itseemstobepickingupasmallbit.

“Fellasaren'tcomingtoLondonasmuchastheyweresothereisascramblethentogetlads.Everyoneistryingtogetthesamefellas.ThereseemstobelotsofworkforguysinDublinandthemoneyisinDublin.Itcanbeexpensiveenoughforguys,mostofourladsarefromdownthecountry.

“Afewofourladswouldgohometoplayfortheirclubsandsomeofthemmovedbackthen.Itiswhatitis,youjusthavetogowiththeflow,andtrytomakehaywhenyougetachance.”

BerginneverlostsightoftheimportanceoftheGAA,howanIrishcommunitycanassistotherstryingtosettleinanewplace.WhilehewillalwaysbelinkedtotheKilburnGaelsstory,heenjoyedoperatingforotherclubsinLondonbeforetheywerefounded.

“I'mhere30yearsnow,Icamein1987,Kilburnwereonlyformedin1997,sotheclubisjust20yearsold,”Berginsaysabouthisowncareer.

“WhenIcamefirstIhurledwiththeBrians-BrianBorus,buttheyfoldedafterthat.IhurledwithGlenRovers,mostofmyhurlingherewasdonewithGlenRovers.

“ThenGlenRoversandtheDesmondsamalgamatedin1997toformKilburnGaels.1997wasthestartoftheCelticTigerathomesowedecidedtokeeponegoodclubgoingratherthantolosetwo.TherewereconnectionsbetweentheDesmondsandGlenRovers.Differentladshadhurledwithoneandwenttotheothersotheydecidedtoformoneclubratherthantolosetwo.Thatishowitcameabout.”

Kilburn Gaels were quickly competing for honours too. “It wasn't too bad, the hurling was still strong enough here at the time,” Bergin recalls.

“We hurled Intermediate for a couple of years and we won the Intermediate Championship, the League and one of the Cups in 2000. So we went up senior and we have been up senior since.”

Small, but significant steps were taken as Kilburn earned respect. “In 2003 we won our first senior competition, the Collins Cup, so that was another big boost to us. We have been knocking on the door ever since, we won a couple of Ryan Cups, Collins Cups and Leagues since and in 2010 that was our first Championship.

“2014 was the next one and we are in another final now so we have been building steadily. Once we got up in 2000 we have held our own after that.”

The turnover of players is simply the way it is in London Bergin accepts. The County Board are admirably trying to increase the amount of London born players youngsters in Gaelic Football, but that is difficult to achieve with hurling. Kilburn Gaels’ junior panel does feature several home grown players.

“We have a few London born fellas involved in our second team, our junior team,” Bergin remarks. “There is none of them involved in the senior squad. It is hard for them. It is easier with football because any lad that plays soccer or rugby can pick up the football, whereas hurling you have to be at it from when you are very young.

“Watch a club match at home, all the young lads and girls are pucking around beforehand. Then half-time comes they are out again, you'd see them all sizes. Lads 18 or 19 maybe not making their senior team, but still good down to four and five year olds. It is in the tradition, you have it in the schools at home, you obviously don't have it here. You'd like to think it could start off.

“Half of the junior team are second generation Irish, but a lot of them don't keep it going either because they get other interests.

“Lads go away to college and whatever. If a lad goes away in Ireland he can go home at the weekends, there is plenty of hurling for them. If you go to college in Sheffield or Liverpool there is very little hurling, there might be some football in Liverpool, but there is nothing to hold them playing.

“If they aren't there every weekend they lose out and they drift away from it here compared to at home.”

From all over London, hurlers flock to Highgate on Tuesday and Thursday evenings throughout the year, Bergin is there providing coaching and assistance. Returning to a County Final is a demanding task against Emmetts, who are the current standard bearers.

“They are going for three in a row and they will be hard beat,” Bergin acknowledges. “They have some new lads, but the backbone of the two in a row so far are there.

“They have experience of being in a final and everything else. We will give it a blast to see how we get on, but they'd be clear favourites for the title.” Regardless of the result Bergin’s work will continue, hurling and sport will always be relevant.

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