London and Warwickshire players compete for the ball in the All-Britain Championship Final.
London and Warwickshire players compete for the ball in the All-Britain Championship Final. 

London and Warwickshire primed for All-Ireland Junior Championship semi-finals

By Tye Adamson

With a father who is one of 15 children from Leitrim and a mother who is one of five from Cork, Patrick O’Connor knows the irony of him being the one who has the chance of making GAA history for the family at Croke Park this weekend.

But that’s the backdrop to his role and “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to represent an all-London born team in the new All-Ireland Junior Football championship which will be played out this weekend.

The new competition brings together the footballers of Kilkenny with home grown players representing London, Warwickshire and New York in a rejuvenated format that features semi-finals in the National Games Development Center Abbotstown this Friday for the right to play in the final at Croke Park on Sunday in front of an estimated 70,000 before Dublin v Kerry.

Using home grown English and New York players has given the competition an added incentive for those players.

Patrick jokes that, out of all his cousins and relatives, "they never would have expected it would be the Englishman that would have the chance to win an All-Ireland at Croke Park!"

Former London footballer Stephen Lynch is the team manager and is credited by O’Connor for the unity he has created within the group.

“After listening to Stephen Lynch talk for five minutes we are all ready to run through walls,” said O'Connor.

For his part, Lynch has paid tribute to the work being done at club level across London where the focus on underage development has made it possible for them to have teams that can rely on home-grown talent.

He says: “Credit has to go to the clubs for all of their work with the lads all the way up.”

London Captain, Patrick O'Connor emerges with the ball during the All-Britain Championship final.
London Captain, Patrick O'Connor emerges with the ball during the All-Britain Championship final.

O’Connor believes that the strong core of local lads who have grown up together since they were six and seven years of age and have represented London in Féile and other competitions in hurling and football has helped create a communal atmosphere among the squad with “the vision and goal of creating history” a huge motivational factor ahead of their semi-final date with Kilkenny in the National Games Development Centre in West Dublin.

Another all-English team hoping to create history is Warwickshire who have used their 1-12 to 0-5 defeat to London in the All-Britain final last May as a wake-up call.

The GAA presence is growing in Warwickshire, with 14 clubs across cities like Leicester, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Wolves, holding their own in areas traditionally dominated by Soccer and Rugby. Warwickshire does have a strong supporter in Manchester City’s Jack Grealish who was born in Birmingham to Irish parents and once graced the hollowed turf of Croke Park at half time in his juvenile GAA playing days.

The Warwickshire team will want to emulate their famous counterpart but are taking it “one step at a time” according to manager Charlie O’Donnell, and trying their best to become “history makers” and prove to be an inspiration for many generations of English born Gaels to come.

“The timing is perfect”, O’Donnell commented. “Between the huge development and facilities at Páirc na hÉireann it’s time for this team to make their mark”.

Warwickshire’s captain, Michael Mannion, is looking forward to the trip to Dublin. “It’s an absolute honour being able to represent Warwickshire as an English-born player on a home-grown team," says Mannion.

The opportunity to show the Irish audience what the team from ‘Shakespeare’s County’ can do is a massive motivation for them. Having parents from Mayo and Galway, Michael spent many Summers in Galway attending the Cúl Camps and that ignited his passion for Gaelic Games.

If the chance to get to an All-Ireland final and match his famous uncle, Pat Kelly, who played for Mayo in the 2004 All-Ireland senior final, isn’t motivation enough, the opportunity to have one over him by winning an All-Ireland medal adds an extra bit of motivation to the cause.

Michael speaks very highly of manager, Charlie O’Donnell, saying he’s brought all the clubs in Warwickshire together and instils his own way of playing and treats the team no different than if he were coaching back in his native Donegal.

Excitement in the build up to the trip to Dublin has given extra focus and motivation to everyone and has created a special atmosphere and generated massive support to ensure the team is properly ready and kitted out to fly the flag for Warwickshire this weekend and their semi-final clash with New York on Friday evening. To be, or not to be... this weekend we will see!

Friday, July 8

GAA Football All-Ireland Junior Championship Semi-Finals

New York v Warwickshire, NGDC Abbotstown, 5pm

Referee: Conor Dourneen (Cavan)

(E.T. in Necessary & Winner on the Day)

Kilkenny v London, NGDC Abbotstown, 7pm

Referee: Kevin Faloon (Armagh)

(E.T. in Necessary & Winner on the Day)

Sunday, July 10

GAA Footabll All-Ireland Junior Championship semi-finals

Warwickshire/New York v London/Kilkenny, Croke Park, 1pm

Referee: Barry Tiernan (Dublin)

(E.T. in Necessary & Winner on the Day)