By Ronan Early at Dr Hyde Park
A GAME of two halves? That doesn’t even begin to illustrate the lopsided nature of this contest.
It was more like a Tour de France time trial: with the wind at their backs either side had the chance to gather themselves, find a fluent rhythm and then attack-attack-attack.
The opposition, meanwhile, had little choice but to defend-defend-defend.
Despite conceding 1-11 after the change of ends, the nature of this defence was what ultimately saw London over the line.
See tomorrow’s Irish Post for full coverage of London’s historic win – available in all good newsagents
A Kevin Conlon free brought Leitrim’s arrears to just a point with two minutes of normal time plus two of injury time to play.
Considering the head of steam the Ridge men had built up, they were warm favourites now to not just draw level but to win.
For London to hang tough here they really had to want it to a degree that is not normal.
As time wound down, they were headless, certainly, in possession. But they chased the ball with a furious determination that was quite something. The effort expended was pure. If they were going down, then nothing was to be left on the field.
And nothing was – no fuel in the tank and, crucially, not another oh-so-close-unlucky-us story for the London genre. This was about breaking down stereotypes, deconstructing myths and showing no regard for what is supposed to happen.
London weren’t supposed to beat Sligo. And after drawing in Carrick-on-Shannon, they weren’t supposed to return seven days later to Connacht and make a Provincial final.
We’re a long way from what’s supposed to happen now and to Exiled GAA people — to men and women who kept teams going through the lean Tigers years, to players who have trekked out the Central Line on wet Sunday mornings, to the familiar faces on the bank at Ruislip — it feels good to alive and in London this week.
Those people were solid and kept the faith when the easiest thing to do was to walk away. Paul Coggins’ men proved themselves to be very much their team on Sunday.
Allied to grit and resolution, the huge lead built up before the break was central to victory.
Playing with a stiff wind in the first half is not usually considered advantageous. Too often the quarter mark of the game is reached before any kind of pattern has emerged. Not so this time.
From the fifth minute — to the cautious cheers of their supporters who have long been conditioned to expect the worst — London built a game-winning score.
It was only in the last minute before the break that the roars were thrown from the bottom of the Exiles’ lungs. Seamus Hannon picked out Ciaran McCallion, unmarked, on the edge of the small square.
The Kingdom half-forward finished calmly to the net and, boom, fists punched the air and stayed there. Down behind the dugout, amid a knot of London supporters, London’s last manager before Paul Coggins — Noel Dunning — and the Junior team’s boss Kevin Kelly bounced on the balls of their toes.
All those years invested were reaping a glorious fruition.
London had many stars in the first half. Lorcan Mulvey kicked a series of fine frees. Tony Gaughan landed two magnificent points. Greg Crowley capped a tireless display and a flowing London move with a goal. Damien Dunleavy must have passed over every blade of grass; the Neasden man ran himself to a standstill.
For my money, the star performer was Seamus Hannon. The captain does not have the height and physical bulk of many of his teammates but possesses a wiry strength and, importantly, is aggressive. Both his forward run and pass to set up McCallion were perfectly judged.
The turning point was coming though – and it wasn’t half-time.
All during the opening 35 minutes, London pressed high for Leitrim’s kickouts — half-backs, half-forwards and full-forwards up pinned to their men leaving Cathal McCrann no short option. He had to kick long to where the likes Caolan Doyle and Paul Geraghty were ruling the skies.
However, in first-half stoppage time London slacked off, left the corner backs free and Leitrim ran the ball up the field — just like they did in the drawn match. Robbie Lowe lashed a shot that went over after shaking the cross bar. It also shook Leitrim into life.
They were back on the field minutes before the start of the second half, and when the ball was thrown in they wasted no time in chasing down their prey. Bang, bang, bang. Bang. Kevin Conlon fired over four points, three frees and a 45 before the 40-minute mark.
Eoin O’Neill earned a free for Mulvey to convert on 42 minutes — the only Exiles score of the second half.
At the other end, the white flag kept flying and with just under 10 minutes left Glancy got his hand to a long ball from Conlon, redirecting it to the net.
Now the Leitrim supporters were on their feet, roaring their charges forward.
The points kept coming and by 68 minutes there was just one in it. How must blood sub Colin Daly have felt by now? He blazed a one-on-one wide on 48 minutes and now it seemed he would live to rue that moment for a long, long time to come.
The defensive effort, though, the desperate last stand in which Daly played a big part, ensured that regrets are for a different time.
The hard times that people fought through were essential in giving this team a platform to do what they are doing now.
And now is absolutely spectacular.
London: D Traynor; P Butler, S Curran, D McGreevy; S Hannon, S Mulligan, T Gaughan (0-2); C Doyle, P Geraghty; G Crowley (1-0), D Dunleavy, C McCallion (1-1); E O’Neill (0-2), L Mulvey (0-5, 4fr), C Magee (0-1).
Subs: E McConville for Hannon (HT), S Kelly for McCallion (45), C Daly for Geraghty (Blood, 47), B Mitchell for Dunleavy (54), C Daly for Doyle (61), B Collins for Magee (62)
Leitrim: C McCrann; G Reynolds, C Egan, F McMorrow; D Beck, E Williams, B Prior; D Sweeney, B Brennan (0-01, free); P McGowan, R Lowe (0-03), P Brennan; K Conlon (0-8, 6f, 0-1 ‘45’), J Glancy (1-0), E Mulligan (0-1, free).
Subs: C Clarke for Sweeney (13), B McDonald for Mulligan (16), S McWeeney for Egan (HT), R Cox for McDonald (52)
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath)