Another chapter was written into the history of Tír Chonaill Gaels and indeed the history of London GAA when a team made up of all English-born players won a championship final in adult competition by defeating Dulwich Harps in the London Junior football final.
The victory was over a decade in the making. The club long suffered from homegrown players finishing the minor grades and then struggling to break into the senior team at such a young age. It resulted in players either giving up the game completely or joining other clubs. In 2007, the Tir Chonaill Gaels committee, with the foresight of Chairman Tom Mohan, petitioned the County Board to allow the club to enter a ‘homegrown’ team in Div. 3 of the league and the Junior championship. After years of knocking on the door, the County Board approved the request with the only caveat being that each player must be born in London or have come through the club or London’s underage ranks.
The young team made its first foray into adult competition in the Spring of 2010, with the majority of the players still not having celebrated their 21st birthday, although Noel Burke, son of the legendary Paddy Burke, was approaching his 40th!
The first few years was a learning curve for the young team, the football and ability was evident but the nous and experience still had to be learned the hard way.
They reached the finals in 2011, 2013 and 2016 but came up short on each occasion.
Paul Coggins, having stepped aside as London manager, recently guiding the county through their most successful stint, took the reins with gusto, along with Jim Rice and Vince McCarthy. Their aim was rather than win at all costs, to develop the young players. The end result was that when London played the first round of the Connaught championship against Sligo in May this year, five of the starting London team that day played for the Tir Chonaill Gaels Junior team in the intervening years, a proud day for the club and minor board.
This year’s London Junior Championship final between the Gaels and Dulwich Harps, was played at Ruislip on September 9. It was a nervy affair, played in greasy conditions. The first half was low-scoring with both teams deadlocked at 4 points apiece, the umpires could have been mistaken for doing the ‘YMCA’ such was the number of wides Dulwich kicked.
Dulwich would go on to rue those wides as the Gaels came out of the blocks quickly and raced into a 2 point lead thanks to the direct running of Kieran Clarke whilst the introduction of Paddy O Connor and Rory Connors gave the team composure.
Dulwich got back within a point but a monster free from Matt McHugh got the Gaels’ noses back in front and although Dulwich had the possession they couldn’t get the goal needed to win the game.
The final whistle brought joy and relief to players, their families and club supporters alike. Over the years everyone has bought into the team and they have become the heartbeat of the club and a few will be destined for the senior team in the next year or two.
The Donegal links run strong through the team. Liam Gallagher, who starred at centre forward, is the son of Ted from Dunfanaghy. Ryan McCready, who will no doubt play for London, is the son of Danny from Leitir.
Michael Cunningham of Kilcar is actively involved in London’s Donegal community and his son Kieran lined out in the forward line with Kilcar also being represented by Sean McHughs son Matthew. Aidan McGarvey, who played at centre-half back, is a son of Cormac McGarvey from Falcarragh.
All the aforementioned are 2nd generation Irish with their parents settling in the capital. The third generation links are also strong. Kieran Clarke’s grandmother was Mary Clarke (nee McGeady) of Gortahork, Pat and John Flynn and Liam Cunningham’s grandfather is Patrick Cunningham, hailing from Kilcar with Dave Kennedy’s grandfather Mick a native of Glen.
The final brought an end to a great journey for this group of players, their families and the club in their quest to get over the line and in doing so create a little piece of history.
They make the step up to the Intermediate grade next year where another challenge awaits and a few will join the senior team with the many who graduated from the same alumni.
Pictures: Brendan Vaughan