London v Carlow,
Liam MacCarthy Cup,
Ruislip, Sunday 1pm
LONDON hurlers play Carlow at home this weekend in the first of their four Liam MacCarthy Cup games.
Many predicted that the Exiles, managerless at the start of the season, would be relegated from Division 2A, but that did not happen. Instead the side beat Kildare and drew with Westmeath to secure safety.
“With the rub of the green we could have won a few more games,” says Tommy Harrell, who stepped in as caretaker manager at the beginning of the campaign and is there still. The games he refers to are Kerry (table toppers) and Westmeath at home.
This Sunday’s championship opponents Carlow are a tough assignment and gave London a 10-point beating at Dr Cullen Park in February. They beat the Exiles by the same margin in a 4-17 to 2-13 win in last May’s MacCarthy Cup game at Dr Cullen Park.
Harrell is optimistic that London can get closer to the Barrowsiders this time, and perhaps even overturn those defeats.
“Last year I think we got it wrong tactically. In the first half Brian Costello was very strong for us at full-back. Then he was pulled out the field and their corner-forwards did the damage. In hindsight, we should have left him there to command the square.”
Of course, Costello won’t be there this time, having transferred home in January. A more pressing loss will be captain Brian Regan, who has broken a bone in his foot. Regan is one of three injuries. The others are Maurice Lynch (shoulder) and Dave Egan.
“It’s frustrating because we went through the League campaign with no injuries and now we have three,” said Harrell.
Injuries aside, London have a strong side. Expect to see Conor Hickey and Chris McAlinden as corner backs and possibly Sean Treacys man Cian Smith at full-back. Rory Foy and Enda Cooney will anchor the half-back line. At midfield, we could be looking at Darren Moore and Eoin Kelly while up front Stephen Lambert, Henry Vaughan and Martin Duggan will be tasked with putting up a winning score.
To that end, Lambert has been in fine form as a freetaker and as a threat from general play. Kelly is the most talented stickman we’ve seen play for London in the past 10 years; if he gets any space at all he can score from distance and set attacks in motion with his range in passing. Duggan is an effective target man who can do damage if he gets the right service.
If London do click on the day they are certainly capable of upsetting a Carlow side backboned by Mount Leinster Rangers’ All-Ireland finalists.
Carlow are looking to regroup after a disappointing end to their Division 2A league campaign. They qualified for the final but lost to Kerry in Semple Stadium two weeks ago by 3-16 to 3-13. They had the Mount Leinster players back for that league final after their All-Ireland club run and some said that the team were a little disjointed as a result. Six Rangers players returned to the starting 15 for that game and by now they should be gelling back into the side.
The main players to watch are forwards Denis Murphy (excellent free-taker and the main power behind Rangers' run to the All-Ireland club final), his clubmate Eddie Byrne and corner-forward Marty Kavanagh. In defence Richard Coady will provide a solid base from centre back with captain David English also strong in defence.
The mood around this London camp has been positive by all accounts this season. You could argue that the complete lack of expectation has removed any sense of pressure. Attendances at training have been high and there has been desire from the players to give whoever they meet a serious rattle.
We heard a funny line the other week, “good management is recognising the talent and then getting out of the way.”
It made us think of lots of people, Harrell and the London hurlers among them. We’re not trying to downplay his role, but anybody who has attended a London game knows that he isn’t exactly an overbearing presence to the players. There’s no shouting, no recriminations, just a decent team sent out to do their thing. In Shane O’Brien, they have a fine trainer. Once you have good players and good training what more do you really need? Well, quite a lot of things if you attend the modern coaching courses. And of course diet and sports psychology et al have got many athletes over the line. That said, most modern-day county players are self-motivated; they’re fitness-conscious, eat clean and drink less than those who went before.
So once you’ve got a group with the right attitude and a bit of talent then the results can follow.
At the start of 2014 there was a very real fear that the wheels would come off the London hurling wagon and all of Eamonn Phelan’s good work would be undone. That hasn’t happened. Harrell and Matthew Fitzsimon deserve credit for steering the ship. Credit too is due to the panel, who have got on with it, playing a spirited and exciting brand of hurling.
This being London hurling, they do this without the presence of anything resembling a supporter base. In fairness to the supporters - or lack thereof - you could argue that they feel little affinity to a team that changes year-in-year-out. This season again it seems as if up to half-a-dozen of this side could return to play for their clubs at home as soon London's campaign is over. This is obviouslya far from ideal situation.
That said, this Sunday, all the players in green and white will represent London with intensity. There’s no guarantee they’ll win but you can be guaranteed that a skilled, motivated side will give everything in pursuit of victory. It will be a game worth seeing.