London still calling for McMullan
By Cian O’Connell
Kevin McMullan emigrated to London in 2005, won a Nickey Rackard Cup, and has been there ever since.
In the decade and a half hurling has been a central part of his existence in the English capital. Robert Emmetts is his club now and being involved at inter-county level brings joy and satisfaction. Undoubtedly it is a challenge too, but McMullan finds a way.
“If there was no hurling here, I wouldn't be here, it is as simple as that,” McMullan says about how the game in London has caught the imagination.
“If England was to shut shop on the GAA I would move home in the morning. It is a big part of my life living here, the GAA and hurling. I will always be involved in it some way.”
So getting the opportunity to manage London mattered to him. Several years in charge of Emmetts taught McMullan many things. In sport timing is everything.
“I just felt this was the right time to go for London,” McMullan adds. “I'm sure the Emmetts boys were sick of me, I've been managing there for the past five years. It was probably giving them a bit of a chance to get new blood, but I will still be in the background helping them out. It is good to go with London, I'm really positive we can have a good Christy Ring campaign.
“The League didn't go as well as we'd have hoped, but it was a great eye opener for us. The Kildare game and the Down game really opened our eyes to the quality of hurling we need to be playing. We play both of them in the Christy Ring. We will be ready for Down come May 10.”
Before that, though, London will be hoping to retain Allianz Hurling League Division 2B status by beating Warwickshire at McGovern Park this weekend.
The occasional challenge match has been organised in recent years, but the stakes will be piled much higher in Ruislip.
“When Fergus McMahon was manager they played them a couple of times,” McMullan says. “I'm not sure if they played them last year, but they have played on and off. There was no game this year because they are in the same League as them so there was no need to be playing them.”
While the League hasn’t gone exactly according to plan for McMullan, the emphasis continues to be placed on enjoyment. That is key for London.
“We go two nights, Tuesday and Thursday,” McMullan remarks about London’s schedule. “That is what we are trying to do. We are hoping the lads do a small bit themselves, maybe on a Monday or a Wednesday. If we don't have a game on a Saturday or Sunday we train on a Sunday. I want to keep it enjoyable, I want to have a bit of a fun factor.
“I don't want it like some teams back home where it is four nights a week, you can't go out the door or for a pint at the weekend. I'm not in to that. I want to do it the old school way. Train hard on a Tuesday.
“Train hard on a Thursday. Play a game on a Sunday. If the boys want a few pints then, take the few pints as long as they are back training on Tuesday. London is a big city. It is probably one of the best cities in the world to be in. There are a lot more things to do in London than hurling.”
Such awareness and realism has been adopted by several London managers throughout the years. It is different, but maintaining standards is also important.
It is now 15 years since McMullan arrived in London. “I went straight in with the Emmetts,” McMullan explains. “Mick O'Dea got me in there, he was the manager of London team. He just called me straight into the London panel, it went from there.
“We were all together, I think you might have had 10 Emmetts boys in the team that year. You got to know all of the Kilburn and Gabriel's lads.
“With London a lot of people thought lads wouldn't play for me because I was an Emmetts man. That never happened at all.
“Everybody I asked either came out or the lads that didn't had genuine excuses because they couldn't commit and they knew I'd be looking for 100% commitment. There was never any 'I'm not hurling for you because you're an Emmets man'. That is the way it should be at county level.”
Those rivalries endure, but when the green and white shirt is worn a common bond exists. It is different in London, especially in hurling.
McMullan, though, is adamant that the top clubs in London remain capable. “I think that the club hurling is really good here,” McMullan replies.
“For the last couple of years the team that won the Championship here hasn't been too far away from getting back to Croke Park again. Robert Emmetts were unlucky against Tooreen, the year before the Gabriel's were unlucky.
“Kilburn got to a final. Club hurling is pretty good. You don't have the same amount of players coming over as there used to be because Ireland is doing well. When people want to go away they are going more to Australia. The club scene is still fairly strong.”
In recent years Paul Coggins, Ciaran Deely, and Michael Maher have all sought to integrate homegrown players into the London senior football panel. That is harder to achieve in hurling.
“It is,” McMullan admits. “There isn't as much hurling for the underage kids. You have a lot more football clubs so it is easier to get involved.
“When it comes to the hurling I think you only have four or five clubs, even if there is that many, with underage - Father Murphys, Granuaile, Thomas MacCurtains.
“I don't think that there is a wild lot of opportunities there. It is very difficult to bring a lad right through to get him on to an inter-county team. I can't see it happening any time soon.
"Tir Chonaill Gaels and Parnells have these English born teams where lads are all playing together. They are mixing with the Irish lads so they are obviously improving all of the time. They are going from strength to strength.
Division 2B has proven to be extremely competitive so London and Warwickshire are now battling to avoid the drop. “It is tough, you have a lot of good teams in it,” McMullan remarks.
“I felt we would give it a better rattle to be honest, but it just didn't work out. The weather has been bad and we haven't really been training right. We can't get on to a pitch right because of that which has been really killing us.
“It is hard, we can't get shooting. We are training on a rugby pitch. It is alright doing small drills, but if you go to open up the shoulders, to strike the ball 70 or 80 yards you are losing every sliotar you hit.
“It is all small stuff that we can do which doesn't really help us when it comes to a game. Hopefully the weather will brighten up so coming into the Christy Ring we will be fit to get on the grass, to get proper training into us.”
The evenings are lengthening, the clocks aren’t far away from changing too. Championship will be in the air soon. That is when McMullan wants to make a mark. He left Cushendall 15 years ago and found a new home. A passion for hurling endures in small pockets of London.