By Damian Dolan
Jamie Clarke says he’s up for the challenge of delivering a first London senior title for Neasden Gaels since 2010.
The Armagh star made an impressive debut for his new club at the weekend, scoring 0-9 (4f) to help Neasden to victory over Thomas McCurtains at McGovern Park, Ruislip.
The win keeps Adrian Hanlon and Frank Kane’s ambitious outfit hot on the heels of Tir Chonaill Gaels and Fulham Irish at the top of league Division 1. All three remain unbeaten.
They’re the very two clubs Neasden are looking to usurp this year as London’s powerhouse, and they have them in their sights.
“Make no qualms about it, we’re not here to come second,” Clarke told the Irish World.
“That’s the goal; the boys want to get back to that level and win the London championship.
Today was a good start, but there’s a lot of work to do.”
He added: “It’s going to be tough…..other teams are going to make it as difficult as possible for us.
“Neasden haven’t won it in a while, so there’s a lot of pressure there too, but that’s something three, four or five of us will be used to, and hopefully we can help the [other] boys out there.
“We’ve great players but ultimately you have to work hard and be humble. Encourage the boys around us and bring what we’ve done at home.”
His sentiments echo those of Hanlon, an All-Ireland winner with Donegal in 2012. Hanlon has already gone on record to say they’re going to win it.
“That’s the honest nature of him. You can see how much it means to him; he’s a very passionate coach. Everybody listens when he speaks,” said Clarke.
Down’s Caolan Mooney is Neasden’s other ‘big name’ addition and he showed his agility under the high ball and his scorching pace to good effect against McCurtains.
They’ve added to Connaire Harrison, who was part of its intermediate championship team last year, and the Dorans and O’Hares.
Saturday was a promising start against a good McCurtains side, especially as Neasden played most of the game with 14-men.
The underlying message is, there’s no short-cut to success.
Jamie Clarke scores 0-9(4f) on debut to help @NeasdenGaels to 1-17 to 1-12 Div 1 league win over @ThomasMcCurtain at McGovern Park – Connaire Harrison scores 1-3 @LondainGAA @hoganstandgaa @RTEgaa @BPCGAA pic.twitter.com/mndOG2bqEs
— the Irish World (@theirishworld) July 7, 2019
“It’s not always easy for players to come in at that level and have the capability to play on the same wavelength, but I think we showed today that we can,” he said.
“Ultimately it’s down to humility and work-rate. If Connaire drops in, I’ll drop out for him and do the work for a while. And vice-versa.
“It’s that understanding and communication that needs to happen on the pitch for us to all perform.”
It’s exciting times for a club which reached three consecutive finals between 2008 and 2010, but has endured some tough times in recent years.
“It was just nice to get a feel for the ball. It’s a great pitch out there and it will suit the likes of myself and the boys up top,” said Clarke, who last summer helped Longford New York to a first senior championship.
“It will take a while to bed into the squad and get our shape and our formation right, but there were a lot of positives to take.”
It wasn’t Clarke’s first time playing at Ruislip, although it might as well have been given the contrast in the surroundings between now and 2011, when he rocked up with Crossmaglen in the All-Ireland club championship.
Their opponents that day? Neasden Gaels. The Cross won by 1-8 to 0-5
As pleasing as last Sunday may have been for Neasden, and Clarke, there’s no disguising that the 2017 All Star nominee would much rather have been playing in Round 4 of the All-Ireland qualifiers, with a place in the Super 8s the prize.
Mayo put paid to those hopes, however, in Round 3, albeit by a solitary point in Castlebar. Cavan had earlier denied Armagh a first Ulster final appearance since 2008.
— Connaire Harrison (@connaire14) June 29, 2019
Clarke is adamant, though, that they’re not that far away.
“The boys were very disappointed; I still haven’t got over it yet. There’s a lot of us still struggling to move on from it, because it meant so much to us,” he said.
“We knew the type of impact we could have had on the summer – the goal was Super 8s for us.
“We got a tough draw, against one of the All-Ireland contenders (Mayo), but there’s definitely a realisation that it’s fine margins between ourselves and the top teams. Ultimately, we just go again.
“There’s a great crop of players there, and a lot of young players, and we do believe there’s something special in that group.”