Friday 24 February 2017

O'Brien must plan without Kelly for St Brigid's trip into unknown

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

NO football team ever fancies a trip across the channel at this juncture of the calendar and two-in-a-row Connacht champions St Brigid's are certainly not taking any chances in London this weekend.

The Roscommon men are flying over early this morning and will spend the day resting ahead of tomorrow's All-Ireland club SFC quarter-final against relative unknowns Fulham Irish.

They will have to face the Exiles without Padraig Kelly.

"Yes, unfortunately Padraig got this appendix out last Sunday," manager Noel O'Brien revealed. "He'd been in hospital for a few days and eventually they decided that was the problem, so we'll be without him."

But even as he allayed fitness fears about Peter Domican, full-back captain Darragh Donnelly and Darren Dolan, O'Brien still couldn't mask the worry in his voice as his side head into the unknown.

"The problem is we don't know a hell of a lot about Fulham, they're a very new team, so that's always a worry," he admitted.

"The way emigration is at the moment they've got to have picked up some good players and the other thing is that even Crossmaglen were lucky to get out of Ruislip with a win in recent years."

Fulham's rise to the top of the tree in England not only reflects the changing state of the Irish economy, but how London's new Irish diaspora were cleverly harnessed by an innovative new club with an extremely clever strategy.

The club is only five years old and was born from the premise that any GAA club that could make it easy for players who were working in central London to reach training -- particularly young professionals working all hours in the financial heart of the city -- could thrive.

By sharing public training pitches in Hammersmith and Fulham, minutes from two Tube stations and midway between the big soccer grounds of Stamford Bridge and Craven Cottage, the city centre club have made playing football particularly accessible to London's new Irish.

Fulham Irish also used the internet to recruit players and their strategic approach has yielded startlingly quick results, as they now field not just a winning football team, but successful hurling and women's football sides also.

This year they won their first London senior football championship, knocking out holders Neasden Gaels en route to their final victory over Parnells and, a week later, they added the Division 2 league title.

Now they're facing their biggest day yet, against last year's defeated All-Ireland club finalists, who feature several big-name Roscommon players like Karol Mannion, Frankie Dolan and the Kilbrides.

Ruislip may give them a little home advantage, but no London team has ever got past an All-Ireland club quarter-final, despite brave attempts in recent years by Tir Chonaill Gaels and Neasden Gaels, so this is really nose-bleed territory now for the Exiles.

But London's new boys have certainly never wanted for ambition and, as manager Liam Barry (a Limerickman) says: "I know 95pc of the GAA population will say we will have no chance, but we aim to prove them wrong."

Only Noel Nicholson (Galway) and David Connolly (Monaghan) remain playing from the team of 2006, though Eoin Davis (ex-St Vincent's of Dublin) has now moved into their back-room team.

They have a reputation as one of the fittest sides ever to come out of the Olympic city and former Cavan player Lorcan Mulvey is one of their stars at midfield.

Sean Maguire (also Cavan) and Patrick Walsh (Carlow) are two more with plenty of inter-county experience and they also have a strong contingent of players from Ulster, including Shane Mulligan (Monaghan) and Marty Hughes (Tyrone).

Irish Independent

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