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THEY danced. They lifted manager Paul Coggins shoulder-high and they hugged. Older London supporters shook hands, smiling, arms shaking vigorously before walking purposefully to shake hands with others who felt more than just the grip of another hand, but some kind of validation.
Photographers clamoured around the manager snapping images furiously, back-peddling as the joyous mob bounced towards the dressing rooms, bobbing and bawling shouts of celebration, Coggins threatening to tumble on top of them.
A crowd gathered around the pitch exit; resembling the crowd at a wedding, waiting outside the church door full of good-will, congratulation, and with celebration in mind.
London ended a 36-year losing streak in Ruislip on Sunday and oh did they deserve the applause and the warm claps which fell upon their weary shoulders.
“It’s great, I wish I could bottle the feeling,” said Lorcan Mulvey leaning against the wall of the dressing rooms.
“Is it the best feeling I’ve had playing football?” asked the former Cavan midfielder. “Well I haven’t had time to think about it really, but yeah, at this moment I’d guess it would have to be,” he smiles. All the while, Sligo players’ trooped by, heads down, ears pricked, picking up on words that could only have stung.
The sun was still burning outside and London’s focus was yet to evaporate. But then they’ve been drenched in defeat, soaked in disappointment and for too long. On Sunday they were just fed-up with feeling that way.
Sure their stock has been on the rise but they were better than that billing; knew they had the players to cause an upset and the personnel to lead it too, like Lorcan Mulvey, the subject of much Sligo attention because of his size and stature, returned a goal and sublime wonder point on the spin; the talismanic Mark Gottche, breaking up attacks and then surging forward to create others; Cathal McGee, mixing Mulvey-like-stature with skill in the full-forward line, the composure of captain Seamus Hannon; the shuddering impact of substitute Paul Geraghty.
These were players and personalities on which to build victory, force change, break plays, take scores, fill breaches and Sunday’s victory took all that and a slice of good fortune.
From the moment Declan Traynor saved an early Sligo goal-chance, you got a sense that the lick of luck which has so often deserted London might be persuaded to stick about a while.
Critically, she appeared at the death when Sligo’s Pat Hughes’ palmed effort bounced off the cross-bar deep in injury time. It was the type of final play that could still a beating heart and then set it pulsing again – the crowd were captured.
The Exiles were always going to have to start strong to win this. They did, and built a four-point lead mid-way through the first half.
It could have just as easily been seven, if Padraig McGoldrick had converted a penalty on 29 minutes. He struck the ball well, but Philip Greene got down quick to his right and Sligo swallowed up the rebound, later McGoldrick walked after a second Yellow, but that miss hung heavy doubts over the interval.
There was a tangible feeling that London needed to convert these chances if they were going to break the 36-year losing hoodoo. Optimism was tempered by years of bad luck.
But a suggestion of change came early, with the Traynor save, then Sligo’s Pat Hughes hit the crossbar with a rocket from 25 yards, while Gottche saw a ‘45 go in off the post.
Still, there was more to it than luck. Sligo were short on firepower, hitting nearly double the amount of wides as London, but they were thwarted by swarming Exiles defence that left them taking on shots beyond their range.
And London found theirs, through Mulvey, Gottche, McGee 0-3.
Sligo rallied, got a run on London midway through the second period with a former son leading the fightback. Charlie Harrison has previous in Ruislip – a former player with St Brendans, he kicked three scores for the visitors and all of a sudden, it was a one score game.
By now every play counted, singles were celebrated like goals – Sean Kelly’s point in particular bringing a roar from the bank not heard at a London game since, well, long before ’77.
There were those in the crowd that were involved that day in Leitrim 36 years ago. Their hearts must have been in their mouth when Hughes effort was palmed against the bar as the contest gasped it’s last breaths. There were plenty of others left gasping and gushing too.
See this week’s Irish Post (Out Wednesday – May 29) for full post-match reaction; Player and manager interviews and full match analysis
London – Lorcan Mulvey 1-2, Mark Gottche 0-4 (1f, 45), Cathal McGee 0-3, Padraig McGoldrick 0-1f, Sean Kelly, Barry Mitchell 0-1 each.
Sligo – Mark Breheny 0-4 (2fs) Charlie Harrison 0-3, Tony Taylor 0-3, Adrian Marren 0-2, Pat Hughes and Niall Murphy 0-1.
London: Declan Traynor; Kevin Lynam, Stephen Curran, Dave McGreevy; Seamus Hannon, Shane Mulligan, Tony Gaughan; Mark Gottche, Caolan Doyle; Greg Crowley, Ciaran McCallion, Barry Mitchell; Padraig McGoldrick, Lorcan Mulvey, Cathal McGee.
Subs: Brian Collins for Lynam (16), Paul Geraghty for Mitchell (52), Sean Kelly for McCallion (60), Damien Dunleavy for Caolan Doyle (67), Eamon McConville for Shane Mulligan (67).
Sligo: Philip Greene; Keelan Cawley, Ross Donovan, Neil Ewing; Charlie Harrison, Adrian McIntyre, Brian Curran; Stephen Gilmartin, Tony Taylor; Brendan Egan, Pat Hughes, Shane McManus; Mark Breheny, Adrian Marren, Frankie Quinn.
Subs: James Kilcullen for Stephen Gilmartin (47), Niall Murphy for Brendan Egan (52)
Referee: P O’Sullivan