Friday 22 November 2019

Former Galway underage star acts as both player and secretary for London

Mark Gottsche is London’s most experienced player
Mark Gottsche is London’s most experienced player
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

This year London's footballers have to walk the line once again. Things rarely come easy for them.

As ever, there's been the overhaul of the panel. Life in London is largely transient for the GAA-playing population and the door constantly turns and manager Paul Coggins has to scramble to pick up the best of what is available.

There's also the regular battle for facilities and they have learned to adapt and turn to whoever they need to. For an all-weather pitch, they looked to their own for help and rugby outfit London Irish, recently taken over by Irish interests, came good.

But for gym sessions, they use the facilities of a very British institution. Every week the gym at the famed Harrow school, whose graduates include Winston Churchill, is populated by the Wild Geese assortment of players who come together to form this year's version of the London footballers.

Some of that will change when work on the redevelopment of Ruislip is complete.

After considerable delays due to planning issues, work is scheduled to start in early July, meaning Sunday's clash with Roscommon is the last at the venue as we know it.

Mark Gottsche has been, quite literally, central to it all. A full-time secretary, he helps run the county's day-to-day affairs and leads the team charged with charged with bringing the new stadium into being.

On the field, he's London's most experienced player. Born in Germany, his family moved to Oranmore when he was five and the GAA took hold as went on to play in the underage ranks for Galway.

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But since moving to London, he's been there for all of the Exiles' big games - from the time they took Mayo to extra-time back in 2010 through to when they reached the Connacht final two years and played a championship game in Croke Park as they made the last 12 in the country.

After that successful run, they struggled to cope with the new levels of expectation. Last summer, they were tipped to give Galway a rattle when they came to London. As Gottsche recalls, "the game was over by half-time."

"We're mindful of that this time around. We started badly last year and that was it. We didn't give ourselves a chance. We want to make sure we get a good start and get into the game early on."

The rebuilding is never easy. Only a handful of the 2013 team survive but Gottsche believes there is something unique about the London set-up. For the most part, players are getting to compete at a level they wouldn't reach at home.

"It's a big sacrifice that fellas make to play, travelling out to training and doing whatever it takes. But that is the same as say fellas living in Dublin travelling home for training during the week.

"The difference with us is a lot of lads are here for career first and football comes after that. We love it. A lot of lads just wouldn't get to play football like this at home."

London's league campaign followed a familiar roue. The early rounds were as much about building match fitness that other sides could do in their pre-season competitions.

As the league went on, they improved - picking up a draw and a win but might have got more. Still, their form doesn't hint at an upset when Roscommon visit on Sunday. John Evans' side will play their football in Division 1 next year and are a team on the rise after their success of their underage teams.

Elsewhere in the province, Mayo are chasing a fifth consecutive title and Galway look to be building nicely, making the chances of causing some upsets unlikely.

But going into their 2013 summer, they had won just one league game and they went on to make history.

And they've let a little part of themselves dream this year too. If London embark on a run in the championship, there's a contingency in the redevelopment plans that the building work can be postponed.

Hope springs eternal. It has to.

Irish Independent

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