By Damian Dolan
Armagh star Jamie Clarke will spearhead Neasden Gaels’ bid for a first senior title since 2010 after joining the ambitious London club.
The Crossmaglen man will form a dream attack in this year’s London championship alongside fellow 2017 All Star nominee and Down forward Connaire Harrison, who last year helped Neasden to intermediate title success.
Clarke will line out for Armagh against Monaghan on Saturday in the second round of the All-Ireland qualifiers.
Neasden Gaels manager Adrian Hanlon, who won an All-Ireland with Donegal in 2012, says the club are aiming high this year.
“Have no bones about it, we’re going win it. We’re not here to take part,” Hanlon told the Irish World.
With the promise of more high-profile additions to come, Hanlon says there’s no reason why the club can’t challenge Paul Coggins’ Tir Chonaill Gaels, who beat Fulham Irish in last year’s final.
“We’re not finished there – we’re looking to strengthen midfield and the backs,” added Hanlon, who won senior titles with TCG before leaving to take over the Neasden job.
Neasden’s potent forward line will also include London’s Conor Doran, who impressed against Galway, and Ryan and Ciaran O’Hare and Stephen Doran.
It’s Neasden chairman, manager and goalkeeper, Frank Kane, who is responsible for bringing Clarke to the club from Longford New York.
The New York club’s main sponsor, ‘The Chelsea Bell’ pub, is owned by Kane.
From Ballinalee in Co Longford, Kane put the idea of joining Neasden to Clarke after watching him help New York take Leitrim to extra-time in the Connacht Championship last year.
Clarke helped Longford New York to back-to-back intermediate and senior titles, and Kane now wants him to do the same at Neasden.
“I’ve known Jamie for a long time. We met up and we just batted the thing around. He was saying that he was finished in New York and was looking at his options,” Kane told the Irish World.
“I told him that we’d always be happy to have a fella of his ability in London, and we stayed in contact.”
Kane added: “He’s going to be a massive addition to us – he’s going to be immense. We’re lucky that London is now where he needs to be for his [fashion] career.”
Neasden won its first senior title in 1999 but it was in the late noughties that the club really established itself as one of the heavyweights of London GAA, reaching three consecutive senior finals between 2008-2010.
Champions in 2010, they were knocked out of the All-Ireland club at Ruislip by a Crossmaglen side containing Clarke.
The club has fallen on some tougher times since then, suffering relegation to intermediate on more than one occasion. Inspired by Harrison they won intermediate last year, beating St Joseph’s in the final by 2-13 to 0-13.
The challenge of taking Neasden back to the top is what appealed to Clarke, says Kane, who
has been involved with the club since 2006.
“He didn’t just want to go in to a team and be a name – he wants to develop the team. He’s going to be a real asset to us off the pitch, as well as on it,” he said.
“The experience he has from Crossmaglen, New York and Armagh is going to be immense. The managers he’s played under and the players he’s played with – he’ll bring all of that.”
For Kane, the signing is a “statement” and one that will attract further players to Neasden Gaels.
“Jamie coming to the club will make everybody sit up and take notice of us. It’s on the tip of everybody’s tongue and it’s great for Neasden. It will lift everyone,” he said.
“Tir Chonaill Gaels are setting the bar for everybody and you either fall under the bar, or you try and match them.”
With former Tyrone star Owen Mulligan managing 2017 winners Fulham Irish, it promises to be a very interesting London senior title race.