London GAA eager to develop homegrown talent
By Cian O'Connell
Back in 2011 Lloyd Colfer moved to London, and since then the Gaelic Games landscape continues to change in the city.
While injuries ravaged Colfer’s playing career, his impressive work as a Community Development Administrator with London GAA isn’t going unnoticed.
Colfer was heavily involved coaching successfully with Tir Chonaill Gaels in recent years, but he is now in charge of North London Shamrocks in what promises to be a keenly contested London Senior Championship.
Throughout the week, though, Colfer is busy ensuring the London GAA Schools Coaching Programme manufactures players for the future.
The recent evidence is encouraging. “It is going really well,” Colfer admits. “We have roughly about 30 schools taking up the Coaching Programme every year.
“With the amount of Irish teachers we have over here at the moment some of them we just try to give them a bag of footballs and get them on coaching courses. They deliver Gaelic Football and hurling coaching themselves so we'd probably have about another 10 schools doing that. So it is fantastic.
“We run maybe four or five tournaments then throughout the year. One for Year 4s, one for Year 5s, one for Year 6s. Then around Easter time every year we have an exchange with schools from Cork so they come over to play a tournament with all the schools in London that take part in the programme.
“At the end of the year in July we have an All Britain Primary and Secondary Schools competition where we bring them all from across the whole country to Greenford as part of the ABC. We crown a Primary School champion and a Secondary Schools champion.”
London teams are competing strongly in the John West Feile na nGael, but how are the young players being integrated into clubs.
“This year, in particular, the teams did well in the Feile, but in the last five or six years we have done very well,” Colfer says.
“Participation is increasing all the time, it is incremental increases. We haven't had a boom or anything like that, it is going up gradually. So it isn't always as easy as it is at home to transfer the kids across from the schools to the clubs because there is no real parish element.
“We have worked really hard on that over the past number of years to get each club to have a Schools Liaison Officer and some of the clubs do have one for each of the schools purely because the schools aren't next door, they are in different parts of London.
“We have seen a massive increase in non Irish participants, people with no Irish background. Traditionally a lot of the kids playing Gaelic Games in London would be second or third generation Irish, but in the last three or four years we have seen kids from all different types of backgrounds get involved. It has been fantastic adding a multi cultural flavour.”
The current London senior football manager Ciaran Deely has shown an admirable willingness to promote young homegrown players into his set-up. That is critical for London going forward according to Colfer.
“It is all linked,” Colfer states. “The schools programme has definitely helped to increase the amount of kids playing Gaelic Games firstly. Then the work being done in the clubs is phenomenal with massive logistical problems in a city like London.
“The people in the clubs are doing fantastic work. The quality of coaching that is going on is very, very high. The quality of players coming through the age groups is getting higher, we changed to odd age groups this year - Under 11s, 13s, 15s - it has been really good.
“It is shown now with the amount of London homegrown players on the London Senior Football panel this year with seven or so who were all knocking around the starting XV.
“We are very lucky to have a manager like Ciaran, who is willing to take a risk on players, maybe on unproven young players. He is putting them into the county side and hopefully they have shown that they are up to the level.”
Colfer acknowledges that it is crucial for the long term development of Gaelic Games in London to maintain this policy. “It is huge,” Colfer accepts. “Ciaran is a good friend of mine and we speak fairly regularly. For him to have a core base of players that he knows he is going to have to call on year on year is massively helpful for him to build a culture and a squad unity.
“Also for every young player coming through the ranks, through the clubs, and through development squads you have something to aspire to. Now they see the London senior team is a realistic possibility for all of them.
“That is fantastic for them and it is definitely helped us to keep players playing into their late teens, feeding them into Junior, Reserve, Intermediate and now you have huge amounts of homegrown players involved at Senior Club level in London. That is the goal for everything we do at development stage.”
Colfer’s knowledge of the London club scene is deep and the fact that so many London senior outfits are sprinkled with homegrown footballers is a source of optimism. “Without a shadow of a doubt, I came in 2011, I'm a Devleopment Officer since 2012,” Colfer adds. “When I came first you had a handful possibly playing Senior Club football, maybe four or five. In the last five or six years each club would probably have four or five.
“Looking at the strongest teams like TCG (Tir Chonaill Gaels), St Kiernan's, Round Towers, Parnells - all of them have a multitude of players, who have come through the minor ranks in the last five years.
“I remember in 2016 TCG played St Kiernan's in the County Final, both teams had four or five homegrown players and more came on. You had more than 10 London born players featuring in that County Final which shows the work that is being done.”