London facing tallest of tall orders in trying to bridge enormous gulf in class
WHEN Damien Dunleavy played on the Galway team that lost the 2006 Connacht final to Mayo in Castlebar, he would never have thought that his next experience of the west's big day would be seven years later as a London player.
But such are sport's surprising ways. Tomorrow, the man who learned his football with the Kilkerrin-Clonberne club will be marked directly by Keith Higgins, one of three survivors from the 2006 Mayo team.
Andy Moran and Alan Dillon were also aboard seven years ago.
Dunleavy's London team-mate Paul Geraghty grew up in Kilkerrin-Clonberne's neighbouring club, Glenamaddy, and also played for Galway for a period, including the 2007 Connacht final where they were beaten by Sligo.
Galway lost the 2006 and 2007 finals by a point each, a margin which seems well beyond London's capabilities in their historic venture into the Connacht decider.
Their advance has been the fairytale story of an otherwise predictable campaign in all four provinces, and now the big question centres on how they go about bridging the gap between Divisions 1 and 4. It represents the tallest of tall orders, especially when viewed in the context of how the other seven Division 4 teams fared in this year's championship.
They all suffered big defeats in either the provincial or qualifier tests – both in some cases – which makes the scale of the challenge facing London all the more formidable. And if the balance wasn't already tipped heavily in Mayo's favour, they will also enjoy home advantage.
Still, as of now, the dream goes on for London and they will do all they possibly can to keep it alive for as long as possible. They can derive some encouragement from the fact that they have a better record against Mayo than any other Connacht county over three seasons, having drawn with them in normal time two years ago before losing by three points in extra-time.
Mayo will have seven of the team that came so perilously close to losing to London for the first time on James Horan's championship debut as manager.
It's a memory that he will, no doubt, have evoked in his attempt to ensure that his players aren't already looking ahead to the All-Ireland quarter-final even before the Connacht title is secured.
"London will obviously think they rattled us over in Ruislip (2011) and they will want to build on. They have a very good manager, who'll have lots of plans to try and undo us, but we'll just work away on our own thing," said Horan.
Mayo are an altogether stronger force now than two years ago, and Horan knows that barring a Devon Loch-like slip-up, his side will win quite comfortably.
For London, it's a case of maximising everything they have got to ensure that do themselves justice on this historic occasion.
By reaching the final, they have achieved a goal which eluded all their predecessors since London first played in the Connacht championship in 1975.
They are in bonus territory and while that won't include winning the Connacht title, it will provide them with a day to remember.
Mayo – R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; L Keegan, K Higgins, C Boyle; A O'Shea, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, A Dillon, R Feeney; A Moran, A Freeman, D Coen.
London – D Traynor; P Butler, S Curran, D McGreevy; S Hannon, S Mulligan, A Gaughan; D Doyle, P Geraghty; G Crowley, D Dunleavy, C McCallion; E O'Neill, L Mulvey, C Magee.
Mayo v London,
Live, TV3, tomorrow, 2.0