Saturday 24 February 2018

'I was born in London and played underage, so yeah it is my county'

Gavaghan: Aiming for Leitrim scalp. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Gavaghan: Aiming for Leitrim scalp. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Don't bother asking Liam Gavaghan where he's from. Don't ask him who he shouted for as a child growing up in England. There's only one answer. He's London born and bred.

He will captain the Exiles on Sunday when they run out on to the newly redeveloped Ruislip to take on Leitrim in the Connacht Championship. Except the term 'exile' doesn't apply to him. He was born and raised in the English capital and is the first London-born skipper of the county.

For him, there is no other team. It's London or bust.

In some ways, the Gavaghans' story is the typical emigrant tale. Liam and Margaret went to London in 1988 with their three kids. The plan was to get some work and stay for a year. Almost 30 years on they are still there, with Liam Jnr and his twin sister coming along in 1992.

With a Sligo father and a Mayo mother, the GAA was always part of their household. But other than a fondness for Ciaran McDonald, Gavaghan doesn't recall a preference for either of his parents' counties. He didn't look beyond London.

"I was born there, grew up there and played underage there and pushed through to play senior so yeah it is my county," he explains.

One of his brothers played well into his 20s and he reckons now that planted a seed. At 17, Liam was playing both soccer and Gaelic football but when it came to a choice, he found it easy.

"I was more into it (Gaelic football), I preferred it as a game, even watching it I preferred it," he explains. "And coming from an Irish family it was always on TV so it just came to me really. I pursued that because my family was into it.

"My friends were into soccer and going to school they didn't understand Gaelic football but I kept going at it. And I'm here today."

The following year he was drafted into the London panel by Paul Coggins but he sat out a couple of seasons and missed their run to the 2013 Connacht final.

"What they did that year was great. Watching on TV and talking to lads involved, it gave me an itch to come back," he says. "What they created that year with the team environment and team bond was great. We are trying to emulate that."

He's back now and his commitment to the cause is clear, combining county football with shift work as an engineer on the city's underground. He works nights mostly, which means that he effectively trains for breakfast.

"After training I'll go straight to work and then back to bed. Get up, back to training and back to work," he explains. "It's not too bad.

"A lot of people say 'how can you do night shifts?' It actually benefits you in certain aspects. I might be able to get more sleep in to improve your training, so there are positives, it's not all doom and gloom."

Getting the time off from a manager who has no grasp of the game can be tricky.

"I think he thinks I'm crazy," says Gavaghan. "He knows how dedicated I am to it and the sacrifices you have to make to play at this level so he knows about that.

"He doesn't really understand it - he might be asking me to work on a Sunday night but I can't because I'm in Ireland so he doesn't get it. There are a few in the hierarchy who are of Irish descent and they know about Gaelic football so they understand it."

On Sunday, he'll make history as the first English-born captain of London. And he reckons there that is the way forward for the county.

"Definitely with Ciaran (Deely) and the management that is one of their big emphasis, to bring in more London-born players," he says.

"The more London-born players you have in the panel it brings more stability because for Irish lads their first call is work really and they could be gone the year after.

"Following London through the years, the team changes quite a lot year in, year out, and if you have a core group of London lads you know they'll be around for five six or seven years.

"Underage-wise when I was growing up it was more parents coaching teams but now the county boards have a system in place where they go out and coach in schools and promote it a lot more.

"So in the next five years I think we'll definitely see more English-born lads come through."

Irish Independent

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