Sporting Review of the Year
So close and yet so far for Ciaran Deely’s London footballers in 2017 as they bowed out of the championship to narrow defeats by Leitrim and Carlow respectively.
The new McGovern Park opened its gates for the first time, with London and Warwickshire’s minors having the honour of playing the first game at the new ground, before the Exiles’ Connacht Championship campaign came to an early end against Leitrim, 3-10 to 0-16.
The new Ruislip looked a picture for the occasion, with GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail in attendance to officially open the ground and its 1,950 capacity McGovern Stand, named after successful London-based Irish businessman Tony McGovern.
Inspired by their London-born captain Liam Gavaghan, the Exiles looked like they might produce a result to match the occasion, until Ronan Kennedy came off the bench to score two second half goals.
Two late London points had seen the home side trail by 1-6 to 0-7 at the break, and they hit the ground running at the start of the second half to rack up four more scores.
Leitrim had been scoreless for 16 minutes, but Kennedy’s quick-fire double would ultimately prove decisive, despite London’s best efforts at the death to get the goal they needed.
While most of the pre-match media talk had centred around the addition of three-time Tyrone All Ireland winner Owen Mulligan to the London panel, and the ‘would he, wouldn’t he play?’ debate, it was Gavaghan who led from the front for London with an inspired display. The Exiles’ London-born captain scoring 0-8 (2f).
Disappointment for London, but a home draw in Round 1 of the All Ireland qualifiers gave the Exiles a realistic chance of progression.
London’s five-point win over Carlow at Netwatch Cullen Park in February gave confidence, but Carlow had put in an impressive shift against Dublin in Leinster.
Carlow led 0-7 to 0-5 at the end of a forgettable first half, playing with a sweeper despite first use of the wind.
As the second half progressed, McEvoy produced a fantastic point-blank save to deny Danny Moran, before Carlow lost Brendan Murphy to a second yellow to give London hope.
Gavaghan made it a one-point game with five minutes remaining, but the Exiles were always just behind on the scoreboard and never able to get on level terms. For the second game in a row, the Exiles had acquitted themselves well, but come up just short.
London’s championship exit came after a league campaign which had promised much after their Round 2 victory in Carlow.
Playing all of their matches away from home as work to McGovern Park was completed, the Exiles opened with an 11-point hammering in Waterford, with Rory Mason scoring a penalty for London.
They bounced back in Carlow, though, as Gavaghan (0-6, 3f) and Mason (0-7, 4f) inspired the Exiles into a 2-11 to 0-7 half-time lead.
John Daly and Kieran Hughes claimed the goals. London lost Anthony McDermott and Conor O’Neill to second yellows, but the 13-men held on as Carlow rallied in the second half.
Having won just one league game in 2016, hopes were high that the Exiles could build on their Carlow win, but it proved not to be so.
A seven-point defeat to a struggling Wicklow side was followed by a narrow four-point defeat at the hands of Limerick, who’d lost their opening three games before facing London.
The Exiles had trailed by the minimum at the break, but Cian Sheehan’s goal proved pivotal. London fought back to get within two, but two late Limerick scores saw the home side over the line.
Mason then kicked all but three of London’s points as the Exiles went down 0-15 to 0-9 away to Wexford, as the Model County made it five wins from five.
London led by 0-7 to 0-4 at half-time having had first use of the wind, and with 20 minutes remaining they only trailed by the minimum.
But the intervention of ace Wexford marksman Ben Brosnan (0-11, 6f, 1 ’45) proved crucial to seeing Wexford home. It was a good showing from London though.
London and Leitrim’s ‘dress rehearsal’ for their Connacht Championship meeting ended with a 2-16 to 0-15 loss in Carrick-on-Shannon for the Exiles. The home side led 2-11 to 0-5 at half-time, but struggled to recapture their first half intensity.
The Exiles had the better of the second half and finished by scoring six unanswered points, with Leitrim happy to sit on their lead.
London ended their league campaign by being firmly put to the sword by Westmeath, 3-26 to 1-9. Daly netted London’s goal and Mason kicked 0-5 (2f) but the Exiles were decidedly second best in Mullingar.