IN an online poll conducted by The Irish Post, 59 per cent of our readers picked Tir Chonaill Gaels to win this Sunday’s London Senior Football Championship Final.
Major bookmakers don’t appear to be offering odds on the game, but if they did, their prices would probably reflect the general feeling of our readers as excitement builds for showpiece event in Ruislip this Sunday.
The holders are the natural favourites, but only just, in the eyes of St Kiernan’s captain Peter Finn.
“We’ve got great respect for the Gaels, and they’ll probably go in as favourites, but it’s going to be pretty tight – I think goals will win it,” he told The Irish Post.
— Irish Post Sport (@IrishPostSport) November 22, 2015
St Kiernan’s upset the odds to beat Tir Chonaill Gaels in the Tipperary Cup Final in June, but as both teams were understrength, Finn has played down the affect the result could have on Sunday’s meeting.
“I wouldn’t read a lot into that, to be honest,” he said. “The Championship is what both teams have had their eye on the entire year, and they beat us in the earlier rounds of it. That certainly hurt us.
“We all know each other, pretty much, and we all have massive respect for each other’s abilities. “I grew up with a couple of guys on their team – Mark Gottsche and John McGrath, who I went to school with and played football with most of my life. I know a few others from my time with the London panel too.”
It’s not the only thing the two clubs have in common. Sunday’s final will pit the well-established machine of TCG against the emerging talent of St Kiernan’s, and both clubs can put their success down to a well-structured youth set-up.
Plenty of London-born players will be performing at the Irish TV Grounds this Sunday, and Gaels captain Marty McCoy believes the event can prove to be a springboard for young Gaelic footballers who’ve grown up in England’s capital.
“It’s going to be a good day for London football,” he told The Irish Post. “I’ve been really impressed with Liam Gavigan for us this season. He’s an English-born lad in his early 20s and has set the standard for us. I’m sure St Kiernan’s will be keeping an eye on him. “He’s been my player of the year for us.
He’s really stepped up to the plate and it’s great to see someone from London leading the way. He’s a fine example for other young English lads coming through. “He was brought up to the London squad earlier this year and came on against Cavan and made a great impact.
Then we’ve also got Philly Butler, our full-back, who would start at any club team at home. I’m talking Crossmaglen, the whole works. He’s rock solid, has a good attitude and always gives 100 per cent.
“Some young English lads are of the mentality that by the time they reach 18 they feel they’re not good enough to make senior level because of the amount of Irish who come over, and many of them fall by the wayside,” added the Armagh native.
“But it’s not the case. There’ll be a fair few out there on Sunday. Tom Waters for St Kiernans – he’s an up-and-coming English-born player too. It goes to show, for younger local fellas looking on, that if you stick at it you could be playing in county finals before you know it.”
If their structure stays in place, this could well be the first of many county finals for St Kiernan’s, and Galway man Finn is proud to captain the club in their inaugural senior final.
“I’m massively proud, it’s been a great year for us so far and I’m really looking forward to the game,” he said. “A massive core group of the players have been with the club for a long time. I don’t know who is going to start yet, but around four of our starting 15 will be London-born.
“Probably the difference between us and some of the other senior teams is that there’s been that core group of players together for four or five years.
“And, obviously, the London-born lads have been there all their lives. I’ve spoken to a few of the underage managers who’ve coached these guys all the way up and they revel in the fact that these guys are now in a county final and doing great things.
“The underage structure all the way through our club is producing new players. We have the likes of Ciaran Healy, who’s stepped into corner-back this year having come up from the minors last year.
“Then there’s Sean McGoldrick and Liam Gallagher knocking on the door. It’s their club, as such, and I guess we’re just passing through. “Last year we won the home-grown competition and that was huge for the club. Jason Mullarkey trained that team last summer and that gave him the confidence to come through to the Senior side this year.
“The likes of Brendan Mulrooney, who will be our sub keeper on Sunday, and Adrian Moyles have really taken responsibility within the club and the home-grown competition has been great for St Kiernans.”
Amid a lengthy delay in the competition at the semi-final stage, Sunday can’t come soon enough for fans, players and management, but neither captain looks upon the wait as a negative.
“We try to keep everybody positive, which is hard to do on these cold nights, but we’ve just had to be patient,” said TCG captain McCoy.
“The lack of game time has been hard, particularly for the lads who are trying to break into the team. But thankfully, Sunday is not too far ahead now.”
St Kiernan’s leader Finn concurs: “You can look at it as a negative, but from our perspective we’re absolutely flying. Obviously it’s been a while since our semi, but we’ve got a couple of games in since and we’ve a lot of hard training in the tank.
“We don’t want to look beyond this game, but whoever comes out on top will be well served by the extra training put in for the All-Ireland.”
— Irish Post Sport (@IrishPostSport) November 29, 2015
— Irish Post Sport (@IrishPostSport) November 29, 2015