EXCITEMENT is at fever pitch as London footballers and hurlers count down to one of the biggest weekends in their history.
This is the first year since the storied semi-final of 1973 that the Exiles hurlers have competed at the top level — and they are desperate to atone for the disappointment of defeat to Carlow by besting Westmeath.
Then, in Carrick on Shannon on Sunday, the footballers are targeting passage to a first ever Connacht SFC final when they play Leitrim.
Significantly, the last time the footballers tasted victory in Connacht before 2013, Jack Lynch had yet to begin his second term as Taoiseach and 36 years of defeat and 10 Governments followed that famous 0-9 to 0-6 victory over the Ridge County.
If it proved a highpoint in London’s history, then there are others worthy of mention in the context of this weekend’s game, most recently, the hurlers’ success in the Christy Ring Cup (2012), the footballers’ victory over Fermanagh in the Qualifiers (2011) and Robert Emmetts’ achievement when winning the All-Ireland Intermediate club title (2007).
There have been other teams etched in the annals: the Intermediate All-Irelands for the county in 1967 and 1968 and of course, the Liam MacCarthy winners of 1901.
Hurling manager Eamonn Phelan said: “You have to go back as far as ’73 when London were competing in the Liam MacCarthy, because after ’74, they were in the All-Ireland B series. To win on Saturday would be massive.”
Both London teams are underdogs with the bookmakers with Phelan’s preparations hampered by an injury crisis that shows no signs of abating before Saturday.
He confirmed that star player Martin Duggan will be unavailable and that he will be forced to pick a team from a reduced squad of 26 players.
A Croke Park ruling prevents him from bringing players into his squad who haven’t played club championship here.
And while the Kilkenny native is conscious of the history he said it was not a major factor and that London are eager to “get a crack at the top tier”, adding: “We will be doing it for ourselves.”
His football counterpart Paul Coggins is in better shape with captain Seamus Hannon and defender Kevin Lynam back to full fitness, but doubts remain over the well-being of Brian Collins and there are concerns over Paul Geraghty, a totem when he came on as a substitute against Sligo, but Coggins says he expects the Galway native to be available for selection.
“I hear there is good support coming, clubs and people who want to get behind London.
“It’s going to be a different kind of Connacht semi-final, you will hear voices in the stand from Derry to Kerry and that’s what we are. It will be nice to have it and hopefully, nicer to enjoy it on Sunday evening.
“I didn’t hear the support [against Sligo] until I looked at the game back on the video.
“There was huge roar for Sean Kelly’s late point and that was great, every player will tell you they get a lift from support like that.
“We appreciate that is important, it’s great that people want to get behind London now and it is important because we are going to need every single ounce.”
Paul Geraghty said: “When you see guys here 30, 40 years and how much it means to them, that rubs off. I think even the guys that are here relatively short term, they can see that too. It’s infectious.”
■ See this week’s Irish Post for the best football and hurling preview around, including interviews with Paul Geraghty, Lorcan Mulvey, Paul Coggins, Eamonn Phelan, Gerard Hennelly and James Egan.