By Damian Dolan
London ladies manager Paddy Bowles insists his team isn’t looking any further than winning the provincial championship, as they return to the competition on Saturday against Warwickshire.
London ‘sat out’ 2018 and instead went straight into the All-Ireland, where they were knocked out in the semi-finals for a third consecutive year.
But this year they’ll have to battle past Warwickshire and Yorkshire to earn the right to face Derry, Louth and Carlow in the junior championship, which gets underway in July.
“If you don’t come out of provincial you don’t deserve to be involved in the All-Ireland,” Bowles told the Irish World.
“We don’t have the right to go and walk over these teams – we have to be very sensible in our approach. We have to make sure we’re in the right frame of mind.
“The club scene [outside of London] is quite strong.
“There’s no point thinking about playing against Derry – if we don’t win provincial we won’t get through to the All-Ireland.”
London open their campaign against Warwickshire at Pairc na hEireann, before entertaining Yorkshire at McGovern Park.
The three counties play each other once, with the top two advancing to the final in June.
Bowles admits both Warwickshire and Yorkshire are largely unknown quantities, and isn’t entirely sure “what to expect”.
But he knows it won’t be a walk in the park. Warwickshire’s Roger Casements won the junior All-Britain, beating London’s Tir Chonaill Gaels in the final.
The Coventry side went on to beat Yorkshire champions Tir Na Nog in the final.
If London are going to win a first All-Ireland junior title since 2008, then they’ll have to do it without Lisa Cafferky, who has returned to Ireland after two years in London colours.
Cafferky turned out for Mayo again recently in the national league. Bowles admits she was a “key figure” for London and would be a “loss to any team”.
He said: “It’s also a challenge and an opportunity for other girls to step up and fill that void. I’m confident that they can – we’re lucky that we’ve got players who can come in.”
Rebecca Mills is away travelling while Noelle Cocoman and Lorraine McNulty are both injured.
Their absence, and that of Cafferky, is tempered somewhat by the return of Hannah Noonan, who missed last year on account of having a baby. An All-Ireland winner with London (2008) and Parnells (2012), Noonan’s return is a big plus.
The likes of Naoimhin Daly, Catriona McGahern and Fiona Morrissey provide further experience and continuity.
Overall, Bowles is pleased with the panel he and his management team have assembled.
“I think we’ll have a stronger squad than last year and more impact coming off the bench. I think we’re going to be very strong,” he said.
“We’ve lost some very, very good players, but we’ve also gained others. Some who are new to London this year, and some who weren’t available last year.
“We’ve a lot of new girls in, including some with experience of playing with Roscommon, Clare and Kerry, but we’ve still a lot of girls from last year. It’s a good mix.”
Ryan Jones, Beano Collins and Paul Moyne are all back on board as part of Bowles’ management set-up. Catherine Barrett is a new addition.
The Thomas McCurtains player started at corner back in last year’s junior All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Limerick, but has been ruled out with a knee cruciate ligament injury.
“Catherine has a very good knowledge of the game and is a good link to the players. She’s well liked and is a good voice in the changing room. The girls really admire her,” said Bowles.
“It’s very important to have a female representative within the coaching staff, because you want them in the changing room when we’re obviously not able to be.”
If they can progress from Britain, then the hunger is still there to end London’s run of three consecutive All-Ireland semi-final defeats – to Antrim (2016), Fermanagh after extra-time in 2017 and then to Limerick.
“We were there or thereabouts for the majority of the [Limerick] game. The Limerick girls had that bit more experience and the girls they brought off the bench had that bit more experience,” said Bowles.
Limerick were able to bring on veteran star Dymphna O’Brien in the second half and she scored 1-3. The goal coming from a penalty.
London had led 1-4 to 0-2 after 14 minutes, only to see their lead reduced to just one-point by the break (1-8 to 1-7). A strong second half performance saw the Shannonsiders through to the final by 3-15 to 1-14. Limerick went on to smash Louth in the final by 5-6 to 0-8.
“We want to go another step this year and our target will be getting to that All-Ireland final, but we have to bring it back to the provincial championship,” added Bowles.
“And if we can get through that, then we have a very difficult group.”
Junior Provincial Championship Fixtures
Warwickshire v London
Pairc na hEirenan, Birmingham, 1pm
London v Yorkshire
McGovern Park, Ruislip, throw in TBC
Yorkshire v Warwickshire
Venue & throw in TBC
Venue & throw in TBC