London vice-captain, Eoin Walsh.
London vice-captain, Eoin Walsh. 

London looking to make amends against Sligo

By John Harrington

In an otherwise positive Allianz Football League campaign for the London footballers that saw them win three matches and lose another three by an average of just two points, one result stuck out like a sore thumb.

It was their Round 5 defeat to Sligo that saw them lose by 18 points, a result very out of character with the rest of the campaign.

Was it just an off day for the exiles or an accurate barometer of the relative strength of the two teams?

We’ll find out on Saturday when they meet again in the first round of the Tailteann Cup in the same venue, Markievicz Park.

Not surprisingly, London vice-captain, Eoin Walsh, sees it as a great opportunity to make amends.

“I don't think we have a score to settle but in that league game we didn't do ourselves justice,” he says.

“In every other game we were within a score or two of coming out with a positive result. We felt we let ourselves down; both players and management felt we didn't get the Sligo game right.

“The scoreboard didn't look pretty. Sligo were big scorers during the league; they were pushing for promotion and were unlucky not to get there. I don't think you can you can read too much into their Roscommon game.

“We'd be hoping not to stray too far way from what we were doing during the league. If you look at our league campaign as a whole that Sligo game was a blip, even though Sligo didn't make it easy for us that day. We will now have to try and bridge the gap.

“Our mantra for the league was to try and be competitive and stay in games for as long as possible. That's what we'll be trying to do at the weekend.”

They would have probably preferred a less difficult first round tie than a trip to Sligo, but Walsh believes the Tailteann Cup can be a hugely beneficial competition for a London team trying to raise their standards.

“It's positive,” he said. “For Division 3 and 4 teams the run of the mill is losing your first round provincial game and maybe not getting through a qualifier.

“Whereas with the Tailteann Cup it gives you a chance to be competitive at a higher level against teams who are at your level as well. For the teams in Division Two or Three who are kind of nearly on the edge, they probably have a different outlook on it.

“For us as a Division Four team any chance that we have to have competitive championship games against teams at our level, that's what we're looking for and that's what's going to bring us on.

“Looking at it from an entertainment point of view, I think if you have two competitions like the All-Ireland competition and the Tailteann Cup and you see it often in football, in hurling, in soccer, you get it across the board, the higher you go in the competition in terms of semi-finals and quarter-finals, you get some cracking games and there's massive entertainment.

“To have a second competition with the All-Ireland, you might get some cracking games in those semi-finals and rather than having two semi-finals you now have four. So the entertainment value could be massive. I think from our point of view it's a positive.”

Ryan O'Rourke of Leitrim in action against Eoin Walsh of London during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between London and Leitrim at McGovern Park in Ruislip, London, England
Ryan O'Rourke of Leitrim in action against Eoin Walsh of London during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between London and Leitrim at McGovern Park in Ruislip, London, England

London’s decent League showing came on the back of a very competitive club championship in 2021 that showcased how the game is getting stronger all the time in the city.

A number of clubs have made significant efforts to improve their underage structures which is now positively impacting the quality of their senior teams, and Walsh believes that will have a knock-on effect on the county team in the coming years.

“Yeah, I'd hope so,” he said. “It was great obviously to have a good League campaign this year but it's the consistency that we're looking for.

“If we can build on this and go into every League campaign knowing we can be competitive rather than hoping for an oul win or two here or a drawn game. If we can actually go into every game knowing that we can possibly win or be in with a chance of winning a game, that would be huge.

“The club scene definitely was at a higher level last year. I've only been over for three years and one of those years was massively affected with Covid. There were four or five teams last year who were probably unlucky not to get to a final last year in London which speaks for the quality of the competition.

“The clubs are putting more into the underage structures and are now fielding two or three teams of second teams and london-born teams. The London juniors are flying at the moment. I think all of that, trying to develop the game from grass-roots level and make sure the club scene is strong, can only be good for London GAA.

“And then you'd hope that would mirror with ensuring the county team is competitive and so on and so forth and that in the League we'd be competitive. I think what they're trying to do from underage at a club level you'd hope it would benefit the county team going forward.”

One good barometer of the growing strength of the club game in London is the number of native-born Londoners now in the senior county panel.

Their representation has been growing year on year for some time now, and Galway native Walsh is convinced that’s the key to a brighter future for the London senior footballers.

“I heard a number of 13 earlier on in the year and that's probably including lads who have been there for years, new lads coming in, and young fellas being developed,” he said.

“There's a good core. Our 'keeper Noel Maher, Liam Gavaghan, Liam Gallagher, Sean Hickey, they're stalwarts in the London team at the moment. We've brought through some younger players as well, the management have been keen to do that as well to link in the younger players and give them a chance which is obviously really important for their development and for the county.

“As I always say, the lads who are coming over from Ireland might get a job elsewhere or get homesick or for whatever circumstances might move on. It's really the London players who are going to drive it on, it's their county at the end of the day."