London lifted by free flights for Connacht final
LONDON'S cash-strapped footballers have got a massive boost ahead of their historic first Connacht SFC final – a free plane to transport them to Ireland for their date with destiny.
Aer Lingus Regional has come on board with the offer of a free charter flight, to and from London Southend airport to Knock Airport next weekend.
The value of the 72-seater is estimated at €10,000 and will be a huge fillip to the Exiles, financially and logistically, as London had to use three different flights and several airports to get their players to Ireland in time for their Connacht semi-final replay with Leitrim.
Paul Coggins' trailblazers' unprecedented run to play Mayo in the Connacht final on Sunday week has created a huge funding headache for local officials.
The Exiles hadn't won a game in Connacht since 1977 but have already beaten Sligo and Leitrim (in a replay), and the sponsorship deal with Aer Lingus Regional, operated by Aer Arann, will be particularly useful in defraying expenses.
The flight, from the company's latest UK hub (London Southend), will be restricted to the team, management and local officials and will involve no payment, an Aer Lingus spokeswoman confirmed yesterday. It will arrive into Knock around mid-day tomorrow week and fly back to London on the following Monday afternoon.
Aer Arann's interim CEO Sean Brogan said they got involved because it offered them a unique opportunity to support the Exiles
"The GAA has always been pivotal in linking Irish communities around the world, particularly in London, and Aer Lingus Regional also plays a small part in bringing Irish families and friends together with our scheduled flights from the UK and France," he said. "We wish all involved the best of luck and we look forward to welcoming the London team on board."
London had to travel to Carrick-on-Shannon and Roscommon respectively for their two-game tussle with Leitrim because they have a standing arrangement with Connacht that they always host their first game in Ruislip – to benefit from the home gate – and have to travel thereafter.
But their experience this summer may yet see the Exiles agree to a home-and-away arrangement in future.
London chairman Noel O'Sullivan has confirmed that Connacht Council have promised to grant-aid some of their costs this summer (estimated at €35,000 already) and will confirm a figure after their latest provincial meeting next week.
He said the team's success has already attracted massive support from their local diaspora.
"For the last two weeks we have been inundated with county associations throughout London who have been giving us donations as well," O'Sullivan said. "It has taken enormous effort from the board and others to raise the money that we need."