Sport Gaelic Football

Friday 22 September 2017

Exiles seek glory at end of long and winding road back to where it began

Members of the winning London team and their backroom staff arrive in Luton Airport following their win over Leitrim, which has won praise from London Mayor Boris Johnson
Members of the winning London team and their backroom staff arrive in Luton Airport following their win over Leitrim, which has won praise from London Mayor Boris Johnson
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

IT may not fit well with Galway, Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim but the team most qualified to challenge Mayo for the Connacht title are getting their chance on Sunday.

London may winter in the lower regions of Division 4 but they have the best championship record of any Connacht county against Mayo over three seasons.

Their draw with Mayo in normal time in the quarter-final two years ago is the best 70-minute result of any Connacht county in that period and while London lost by three points in extra-time, it was still one the toughest tests James Horan's men have encountered on the western circuit in recent times.

While much has changed for Mayo since then, reinforcing the memory of Ruislip 2011 will be helpful to Horan as he seeks to banish over-confidence from the dressing-room.

Landscape

If the environment is much different to two years ago, it's positively Mars-like compared to the prevailing landscape when London took their first steps into the Connacht scene in 1975.

The admission charge for the game with Mayo in Castlebar was 40 pence, Sligo were beginning a campaign that saw them win the provincial title for the first time in 47 years and the Kerry footballers were about to launch into the most successful era in their history.

There were no shortage of sceptics over the wisdom of allowing London to play in Connacht. Some argued that they would not be sufficiently competitive while others were concerned that they might, in time, develop into a force which would trouble the locals.

However welcome the latter might have been in an overall GAA context, it would not have taken long before Connacht counties questioned why they had to provide a nest for the cuckoo every year.

Now, 38 years on, London are returning to Castlebar with a new version of history on their ambition sheet as they attempt to win the title for the first time.

It has been a long, difficult journey which, up to the start of this year's campaign, featured just one victory, achieved in 1977 when they beat Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon.

Four weeks later, London were reunited with history, losing by 16 points to Galway in Ballinasloe. Three years later, Roscommon beat London by 9-19 to 1-10, a result which raised renewed questions about whether the link-up was viable.

Indeed, were it not for the win over Leitrim three years earlier, London's future in Connacht would have been in doubt. However, those who supported it pointed out that Clare had lost to Kerry by 36 points in the 1979 Munster championship but nobody was proposing the Banner's exclusion.

And so it went for London, losing on an annual basis, usually by big margins but interspersed sufficiently often by relatively close games to ensure them of permanent inclusion in the Connacht championship.

London missed the 2001 season, having been forced to withdraw due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. It was feared that the loss of momentum might leave them vulnerable for the next few years but wasn't the case.

They had some setbacks, notably an 8-14 to 0-8 defeat by Galway in 2004 but a one-point defeat by Roscommon in 2005, a four-point defeat by Leitrim in 2007, the courageous stand against Mayo two years ago and a one-point defeat by Leitrim last year built them up for the big drive that has taken them back to where it all started in Castlebar, only this time for a Connacht final.

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