Sport Gaelic Football

Sunday 21 January 2018

McCallion and Devlin put friendship aside to face off for shot at glory

Ciaran McCallion
Ciaran McCallion
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

TWO months ago Ciaran McCallion and his good mate Collie Devlin were meant to go on holidays together but it didn't happen.

That was because Devlin plays for Ballinderry, who were still in the throes of their bid to win their first Ulster club SFC title in 12 years. Tomorrow these two close friends will be rivals, on opposite sides in Ruislip, duking it out in the All-Ireland SFC club quarter-final.

McCallion plays for London champions Kingdom Kerry Gaels (KKG) and Devlin isn't the only opponent he knows well.

A few more of the Ballinderry squad were team-mates at St Mary's Magherafelt and lined out alongside him in a MacRory Cup final in 2003. And even if he didn't know them well personally, McCallion would still be pretty au fait with Ballinderry's awesome line-up as he is a Derry native himself from Greenlough and the St Oliver Plunkett's club.

After a year in which he has been part of a team of giant-killers, he's hoping KKG's underdog status will stand to them again tomorrow. It has been quite a year for McCallion and his team-mates David 'Bonzo' McGreevy (from Down) and Lloyd Colfer (from Wexford).

Last summer the trio enjoyed a fairytale odyssey with the London footballers. It took them all the way to the Connacht decider, where McCallion started at wing-forward against Mayo.

GREAT

The trio's great season was capped by winning the London title, the club's first county crown in nine years; KKG's team also includes former London players Stephen Browne and Kevin Waldron. The club, originally based in Kilburn, was one of London's traditional GAA superpowers but got usurped in recent years.

The city's GAA profile has changed massively in the past decade -- McCallion lives in Wembley and the club now trains in East Finchley -- but the significance of a county title is still the same.

"It was a big deal alright because we lost the final last year to Tir Chonaill Gaels and came back and beat them this time," he explains.

"We felt we were there or thereabouts for the last few years, lost semi-finals and that, so it was great to finally get over the line."

It looks no coincidence that KKG are managed by Noel Dunning, who was Paul Coggins' predecessor as London senior manager and a pivotal figure locally who can take some credit for the Exiles' recent breakthrough. It was Dunning who first brought McCallion into the London squad five years ago.

Their inter-county achievements over the last two summers surely gives himself and his club much more confidence now than any previous London club quarter-finalists?

"It does surely," McCallion says. "Before this, people probably thought that London football was just about playing a game and having a few beers, but hopefully what we did this summer has earned us more respect.

"Of course we'll be written off against Ballinderry. They've been one of the best clubs in Ulster, and felt they should have won more, but were just unlucky to keep coming up against the best side ever in Crossmaglen.

"Now they've won Ulster, their sights are set on a semi-final spot, so we know how tough it will be."

With his job at Heathrow airport finishing up, McCallion and his girlfriend are heading off in January to go travelling for a year. First stop is Hong Kong, to visit a former KKG team-mate, and then they're bound for Australia, so this could be McCallion's last major game of football for some time, which only increases his desire to sign off in style.

Weekend GAA previews

All-Ireland Club SFC

Quarter-final

(Extra-time if necessary)

Kingdom Kerry Gaels (London) v Ballinderry (Derry), Ruislip, 1.0, C Lane (Cork)

The Gaels beat Tir Chonail Gaels to win their first London title since 2004 but they've got injury worries over two of their three inter-county men -- Dave McGreevy and Lloyd Colfer -- and the club has been hit with a flu bug which will make life harder against Ballinderry, who won their first Ulster title in 12 years.

Betting: Ballinderry 1/50, Kingdom Kerry Gaels 10/1, Draw 25/1

Verdict: Ballinderry

All-Ireland Club JFC

Quarter-final

(Extra-time if necessary)

John Mitchel's (Lancashire) v Emyvale (Monaghan), Pairc na hEireann (Birmingham), 1.45, P Neilan (Roscommon)

Liverpool side John Mitchel's have racked up some big scores to date en route to the All-Britain title. Emyvale are back in their second All-Ireland quarter-final in four years, albeit with a much younger team.

Betting: Emyvale 1/2, John Mitchel's 15/8, Draw 13/2

Verdict: Emyvale

All-Ireland Club JHC

Quarter-final

(Extra-time if necessary)

Fullen Gaels (Warwickshire) v Ballinamere (Offaly), 12.0, J Keane (Galway)

Ballinamere became the county's first Leinster Junior champions thanks to a thrilling comeback and one-point victory over Lisdowney.

Fullen Gaels have just won their fourth Warwickshire title in a row and gave Thomastown a serious fright in last year's All-Ireland final.

Betting: Ballinamere 6/5, Fullen Gaels 8/11, Draw 8/1

Verdict: Ballinamere

Cliona Foley

Irish Independent

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