Preview, London v Galway, Connacht SFC, Ruislip,
PAUL COGGINS will always tell you he looks for performances over results, process over outcome.
If ever London require a performance it is this Sunday in Ruislip. They need a pumping powerhouse of a display against Galway, striking that elusive balance between intense aggression, calm decision making and complete concentration from the first minute until the end.
Reviving the form of the celebrated 2013 campaign won’t cut it. Fond reminisce always gives the past a flattering glow but if you look back coldly you realise that while London achieved hugely last year they did not produce a 70-minute performance. The first half in the Connacht semi-final replay against Leitrim – when they stormed into a 14-point lead – was the high-water mark.
As the mantra goes, last year is gone. London don’t have to match it, they need to build on it. A reproduction of that first-half Leitrim form – and doing it for the whole game – has to be the goal.
How good or bad Galway are is largely beyond London’s control. The Exiles can control their own performance though and it is paramount that they get it right on Sunday.
The result might follow or it might not. Realistically, if Galway get their performance near to right then they will win. They are a Division Two side, London Division Four. Galway, as well as their tradition and huge pick, are built on a foundation on U21 All-Ireland victories in 2011 and 2013. How they are not a more formidable senior force is one of this sport’s conundrums.
When they get their act together, which they surely must do eventually, then you feel they will be front-line Sam Maguire contenders.
In London’s favour, Galway show no obvious signs of fulfilling their potential in the near future. They are, however, on a slight incline. Back in early spring they were on the crest of a slump. A 15-point hammering from Laois left them bottom of Division Two with three losses from three games.
From that low Alan Mulholland’s men have rallied, beating Down and Armagh, drawing with Louth and losing narrowly to Donegal.
Last week they fielded an experimental side in a challenge against Meath and lost by four points, so you could hardly argue with conviction that they have turned a corner.
Still, they travel with a side boasting talents such as Finian Hanley, Gareth Bradshaw and Fiontan O Curraoin among others and are well capable of cutting loose.
London, for their part, approach this game like they do the Championship opener pretty much every year: making the most of the long evenings, training well, cramming hard before the late May exam, hoping they aren’t undercooked on the day.
Until London have year-round access to a floodlit pitch with GAA posts, play in pre-season tournaments and have a low turnover of players this will always be the case.
Progress is being made on these fronts. Ruislip’s redevelopment is at the planning stage and the scarcity of jobs anywhere but Dublin at home means that players are inclined to stay here long term. Look through the London panel and there is a nice core of experience; guys like Mark Gottsche, Evan Byrne, Paul Geraghty and Declan Treanor are stalwarts at this stage.
As always, the squad has its share of new arrivals and has benefited from that.
Former Galway goalkeeper Adrian Faherty is a serious addition in a position where the panel is already strong. His free-scoring capability from distance is a huge plus.
Up front Coggins will be hoping for an impact from newcomers such as Cathal O’Neill and Joe Feeney.
Obviously the big gain to the panel of Tyrone’s Cathal McCarron has not worked out as anybody would have liked. We sincerely hope that is he okay and moving on with life in as positive a frame of mind as possible.
Losses to the squad from last season were not many but they were significant. The Derry duo of Caolan Doyle at midfield and Ciaran McCallion up front were major contributors to the side’s effectiveness.
Among the established players, captain Lorcan Mulvey and Gottsche carry the greatest threat when fully fit. Damian Dunleavy, who has endured horrific luck with injuries, is perhaps the best footballer London possess. Greg Crowley has a fine engine and gets forward into goal-scoring positions. Eoin O’Neill is an established forward at this level, good in the air, from frees and well capable of weighing with scores from play.
At the back, London are well served by the likes of Stephen Curran and Brian Collins and Donnacha McCarthy. Philip Butler is maturing into an excellent man-marker – he did a super job on Leitrim’s star Emlyn Mulligan some weeks back in the league, sticking to him like clamp on the wheel of a Porsche.
Not everyone on the London side, though, is a quick as Butler. Pace would be the one area where you’d fear for London. If it’s an open game then Galway could well get a run on them. The home side are physically strong and dogged so need this to be a tight, big-hitting encounter.
The bookies have the home win at 5/1, a maroon victory is 1/7. Neither price tempts us to be honest. But the spread of London plus five does. London's last three championship games at Ruislip, against Sligo, Antrim and Leitrim, have been decided by a point
A win for the Exiles is, of course, not an impossibility. But, looking at it coolly, beating Galway would represent London’s greatest ever triumph by far. Granted, Galway are erratic, underachieving, possibly even vulnerable, yet London’s form so far in 2014 – all we can really go on – does not indicate that they are ready to capitalise on their opponent’s weaknesses.
Put it this way, defeat to London would trump the 17-point thrashing they took off Mayo last year as the county’s greatest humiliation and for that reason, if no other, we expect Galway to be on high alert for this difficult challenge and to prevail in the end by three-to-five points.
2. Philip Butler, Tir Chonaill Gaels.
3. Stephen Curran, St Kiernans
4. Donnacha McCarthy, Kingdom Kerry Gaels
5. Seamus Hannon, Fulham Irish
6. Tony Gaughan, Neasden Gaels
7. Michael Walsh, Fulham Irish
8. Mark Gottsche, Tir Chonaill Gaels
9. Martin Carroll, Parnells
10. Greg Crowley, Parnells
11. Damian Dunleavy, Neasden Gaels
12. Cathal O'Neill, Tir Chonaill Gaels
13. Eoin O'Neill, Tir Chonaill Gaels
14. Paul Geraghty, Neasden Gaels
15. Joe Feeney, Tir Chonaill Gaels