Tuesday 12 December 2017

Influx of new talent raises hopes for London

Emigration is aiding the Exiles' prospects, writes Aisling Crowe

In one sense Peter Sherry's story is familiar for our times. The former Fermanagh full-back moved to London last summer, by choice not through necessity. Sherry travelled back and forth, playing for his club Roslea Shamrocks most weekends until they won the county title. This year that's not a viable option. Now he plays with Tír Chonaill Gaels and will line out for London this afternoon instead of Fermanagh.

He is just one of many who have made the move. The volume of players moving to London is phenomenal. What was once a steady trickle is now a raging torrent. In just 18 months from the middle of 2010 until the end of 2011, 750 GAA players transferred to London clubs. Since the start of this year more than 200 transfers have been completed.

This influx of talented young players to the capital is having a huge impact on the fortunes of the city's GAA clubs, improving the calibre of football played in the London championship.

The brightest and best of the young footballers who move to London in search of a new life are attracted to the city's top clubs. "The senior teams usually pick up the bulk of the top players and to a lesser extent the intermediate clubs," explains Declan Flanagan, the London board's PRO. "In general, a player coming over who wants to play senior football will look to join a big name team."

For clubs in the tiers below senior level, the recruitment of newly-arrived players to the city has bolstered their fortunes too. St Joseph's steadily added to their playing pool and last year won the junior football championship.

Obviously this has knock-on effects for the 'county' team. The talent and ability of the players moving to London is improving the standard of football in the city. The clubs are recruiting high-class players and the county team is improving with each season. "Club football is the same standard as at home," says Sherry (above). "With the county a lot of players are after coming and you wouldn't notice any difference in standards from what I'm used to. Training is very organised and the sessions are going well."

This afternoon, a large crowd will fill Ruislip for a game that the city's GAA community has been anticipating. After last summer's ground-breaking exploits, London are hopeful of taking the next step. Leitrim will take nothing for granted.

"Most people expected London to put up a good performance and then bow out gracefully but now the team are confident of winning. London have trained very well. They are looked after as well as any county team back home in terms of training and preparation," says Flanagan.

This is another benefit from the latest wave of emigration. The level of commitment and training from players and management alike is on a par with any team back home. "It's 100%, if not more demanding, than what is required at home. There are lads on the team who leave home at six in the morning and don't get home till half ten at night. For lads that have to travel across the city, it's very difficult and demands a lot of commitment," says London forward Eoin O'Neill.

The idea of London winning a championship match is no longer fanciful. That, more than any statistic, is proof of how far they have travelled in such a short time.

"To beat Leitrim and set up a semi-final with Mayo would be a fantastic achievement," adds Flanagan. "The build-up to London coming home to play Mayo in the championship would boost the profile of football in the city. It would be a great fillip for the team and the city."

More than anything else these new players have brought a sense of belonging and a belief that London can and should win. It's the biggest benefit for London football. O'Neill says: "We are like a family. Each and every one of us would die for each other to get over the winning line."

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