Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon
WE shall overcome!
It wouldn’t be London without an element of hindrance from the powers that be, would it?
So far this year we’ve had February club championships in order to get around the Seanie Johnston/Screw London rule. Then there was the bar on London playing challenge games ‘overseas’ in Ireland to prepare for the Connacht SFC. And now this …
As we made our way from Carrick-On-Shannon, still processing this compelling, nerve shredding bout, we got the news that Round Two was fixed for ‘neutral’ Hyde Park in Roscommon. If the Connacht Council were actively trying to put one over on London, they’ve succeeded.
But of course they weren’t trying to do that. And the fact that they’ll get a bigger payday from a game in Roscommon than at Ruislip is just a merry coincidence.
Of course, it could be an example of GAA committee logic … a handful of True Gaels get around a table and, bound by precedent, procedure and a complicated rule book, arrive at a decision which seems logical to them. Only the trouble is that outside the door in the rest of the world, their choices appear crazy.
Whatever it is, the London team are accustomed to being on the sharp end. No matter what the machine throws at them, they have learnt to dig deep and come out punching.
This time will be no different. The panel will regroup, refocus and then travel to Ireland, again, and represent the Exiles with heart and soul.
They are a source of pride to Irish people in London, in the whole of Britain really. It was pride that got them out of a deep hole here.
Put simply: Leitrim were the fitter team in Carrick-on Shannon (a fact not unrelated to London’s lack of challenge games). They finished the first half at a gallop and their progress was checked only by Lorcan Mulvey’s goal that came against the run of play just before half-time.
As the game ticked into the final quarter, the home side were in the ascendancy. When Brendan Brennan kicked them two points clear just after 55 minutes, I wrote in my notes that it “feels like more than a two-point gap, London out on their feet.”
Indeed, the fact that the visitors were still in the ball game at this stage was largely due to the six wides Leitrim had kicked in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
David McGreevy pointed out afterwards that those wides were kicked under pressure from the London backs. This is true. Had Emlyn Mulligan not departed injured in the first half, though, some of those would have gone over, pressure or not.
That harrying and chasing, however, gave the midfielders and forwards a fighter’s chance. And when London needed a bit hitter, up stepped substitute Sean Kelly.
On what was becoming a rare attack, Paul Geraghty used his vision and palmed a ball quickly towards Kelly, tight on the endline. The Cúchullains man was in that area that attackers usually opt to fist over the bar from. Kelly never considered that.
“I just wanted to hit it as hard as I could,” he said. That he did and the net danced.
Kevin Conlon then tied up the game with a free for Leitrim.
Forward stepped Kelly again, this time with an outrageous point from distance on the left sideline. The London supporters, from Harrow and Hayes to Derry and Kerry were on their feet. They were jumping when Cathal Magee punched over with two minutes remaining to put the Exiles two ahead, 2-7 to 0-11.
Darren Sweeney and Kevin Conlon both pointed in quick succession to tie up the game.
With two minutes of time to be added, Leitrim had a 45 to win the game. Ciaran Egan stepped up as the world stood still for London’s followers. Egan’s effort tailed away and relief reigned.
Happy relief was the main emotion on the field afterwards as team, family, supporters and press milled around. “We got out of jail,” said McGreevy. Paul Coggins admitted they’d have to improve.
The initial feeling from both sets of supporters was that it would be all back to Ruislip next week. Alarm bells started to ring when a London official told us that they wanted a decision tonight, because if they had to book flights then it needed to be done asap. Seems they know how these things work. It’s a Connacht fixture, and it’ll be played in Connacht!
Makes perfect sense … if only there wasn’t a few hundred miles of saltwater between these counties.
So the journey goes on, over land and sea.