AN old sports editor gave us good advice, long ago in a county far away.
We had suggested writing a piece before the first round of the Championship encouraging people to come out and support the team.
“Listen, nobody wants to be told by you what to do. Nobody cares what you think they should do with their Sunday afternoon. Just do the previews, the match reports, a few interviews, some analysis, a column and leave it at that eh.”
Sound counsel, and advice we have followed more or less faithfully ever since. This, however, is going to one of the ‘less’ weeks. Every rule — especially one to do with GAA — has a time for deviation.
And we’re not presuming to tell you what to do with your Sunday. If you want to elbow your way around Borough Market ingesting £25 cheeses that’s fine; if you want to cycle down Regent’s Canal then Godspeed to you; if you want to survey this metropolis from the tip of The Shard we hope you enjoy the view. From 1,000ft, what’s going on in Ruislip is in true perspective. It’s a green dot way out north-west amid a swirl of eight million lives in progress.
The thing about that green dot though is that on it this Sunday there will be 15 guys on the field representing you — the Irish in London, the Irish in Britain.
Watch a video preview of London’s SFC clash with Sligo
There is a debate going on at home as to whether inter-county GAA is disappearing up its own posterior. Players are, take you pick, too important/arrogant/afraid to talk to journalists.
That certainly is not the case here. For sure, the players get less media requests, but once removed from the pressure cooker of parish life at home, they relax on this front.
And, to be honest, London is probably the only county where neither the senior hurlers nor footballers are even moderately famous. It’s a crude way to judge but Twitter accounts give some kind of indication of your public profile. Take Carlow as an example — not a big place, not steeped in football success. Yet Daniel St Ledger has approaching 1,000 followers. The London players have similar amounts of followers to us, the local journalists — around 200 or less. That means they are household names in only their own households.
Nobody plays for London for the glory or Saturday night recognition. They do so because even after moving from home for job opportunities they want to play sport to the highest level they can. And, after a while, they do so to represent us: the Exiles.
Irish people in Britain are used to getting patronised a bit. Valued emigrants this, diaspora that… Any chance of a vote for Irish citizens living in Britain? Err, we’ll get back to you on that one.
Similarly, the GAA have felled forests to print blueprints for the growth of the games overseas. Can London come home to play a couple of challenge matches before the championship? Err, no, that’s contrary to Rule 6.21 (b). We kid you not.
You couldn’t blame this London side for saying they have been opposed by GAA red tape at every turn. Aside from the nonsensical challenge game prohibition, we have had the absurd spectacle of Championship games from February this year to make new arrivals eligible for London.
Last season, a round of games had to be scrambled in during May to allow 12 players to become legal — lads who had played throughout the league.
At the time this was dubbed the Seanie Johnston Rule, but in time it emerged that the primary concern behind the legislation was the fear that players were being lured from their home clubs to come and play in London. This fantasy really does show that a rumour will have done a lap of the Earth before the truth has tied its bootlaces.
Players are not being lured to the smoke in large numbers by anything other than the lack of work at home. The unemployment rate is 14 per cent. What would it be if 300,000-plus people had not emigrated in the past four years?
You couldn’t blame this London side for feeling they have been opposed at every turn — but they wouldn’t say that. Apart from a statement before last season’s championship, they have put the heads down and worked around the obstacles. Perhaps they should be more vocal, because you’ll be a long time waiting for people at home to see the Exiles right.
In true Exile fashion though, they have set about their task with energy and humility. They share those same qualities with almost all Irish people over here.
They don’t forget where they are from but recognise where they are at. Like the rest of us, they are from Cork, Galway, Sligo, Monaghan, Donegal, Kerry and everywhere else but now they work long days in a hard city.
Only we go home in the evening. They hit the gym or the fields of north-west London to chase their sporting dream. They dream of playing as well as they can, at the highest level they can and winning. Winning for London.
None of us will ever stop being from Laois or Dublin or Wexford, but we’re here now, in big numbers. And there is a team that represents us.
We can’t promise they’ll win against Sligo. We can’t promise only a kick of the ball will separate the teams at the last whistle — though that’s what we think. We can’t promise a first Connacht Championship victory since 1977.
We can, though, assure you that a panel of players have given the best of themselves all winter to prepare for this game. They have grinded through the pain barrier, watched bruises rise after they collide, woken up in the cold winter mornings thinking about this match against Sligo in late May.
They’re not the same as players at home in that they won’t drive past county flags on the way to work. Many of their bosses, their flatmates, their girlfriends will not be overly familiar with Gaelic football. The pressure cooker is not turned high.
With that comes a certain relief, but also a certain loneliness. They work and strive just as hard as any player at home but does it matter as much to people?
Well, for one day at least, it should. If you’re looking for something to do this Sunday afternoon then head out the A40 or the Central Line to South Ruislip. Have a drink, find your place on the bank, and when the team wearing green and white take the field put your hands together for them. A simple thing like that would mean a lot to this group.
Because in the 70 minutes thereafter they will run and block and fight and shoot and sweat and strive and stand tall for you, their people. Exiles abú.
*Full preview of London v Sligo in this week’s print edition