By Damian Dolan
St Clarets open their 2018 campaign on Sunday with a drive west on the M4 to Reading to take on St Anthony’s, but for the first time in 23 years they’ll do so without ‘club legend’ Tony Murphy.
The offlay man, who managed the Hayes outfit to junior championship final in 2015 as well as being part of the side which reached a senior final in 2002, will instead be dissecting Tir Chonaill Gaels’ Tipperary Cup clash with Round Towers of 24 hours earlier.
In accepting Paul Coggins’ invite to join the Greenford club’s management set-up as senior selector, Murphy will reunite the partnership which delivered London’s footballers a first championship win in 34 years in 2011, when the Exiles beat Fermanagh, and in 2013 took the county to a historic first-ever Connacht Championship final.
But this is no permanent parting of the waves. Far from it. Murphy is at pains to point out that he remains a ‘St Clarets man’.
Indeed, Murphy’s involvement with the Gaels will extend no further than the club’s senior team, out of ‘too much respect’ for Clarets, who compete against the Gaels’ junior side.
“It was a big decision, but I haven’t left St Clarets. I’m just going to do something else,” Murphy told the Irish World. “Whenever I finish here [at TCG] I will go back.
“I’m just going on another adventure, another journey, in Paul’s words.”
Murphy had already made up his mind to step down as Clarets manager after three years with the intention of taking a break. That was until he received a phone call from Coggins.
Despite his wife thinking it ‘wasn’t the best idea in the world’, for Murphy, the time was right to ‘try something new’.
It offered him the chance to be involved at senior level for the first time since Clarets were relegated to intermediate in the mid-noughties, and be part of Coggins’ vision for the Gaels.
“His vision with London was to win the quarter-final, and then the semi and go on to a Connacht final,” recalled Murphy.
“Some people probably looked at him and laughed. He said afterwards his mistake was saying his vision was to get to the final – he should have said it was to win it, not just to get there.
“I don’t think anyone would need to spell out what Paul’s vision is [for TCG].”
After managing the Gaels to four county senior football championships before taking up the London manager’s job in October 2010, Coggins will no doubt have his sights set firmly on adding to that tally in 2018.
After stepping down as London boss in 2015, Coggins has spent the last two years managing Tir Chonaill’s junior team. He led them to a county final in 2016 and it will be interesting to see how many of that side’s young English-born talent he chooses to elevate to the club’s senior ranks, to join the likes of Liam Gavaghan, Ryan Elliott and Philip and Killian Butler.
Murphy will form part of a senior management team which also includes Fergal Cunningham, who managed Neasden Gaels to championship success in 2010 and David Byrne, who has been part of the management at Neasden for the last two years. Both won a senior title with Neasden in 1999 as players.
Cunningham was initially named as part of Coggins’ London management set-up in 2010, but subsequently stepped down.
“It’s going to be good. It’ll be different to where I’ve come from, a one or two man set-up, to one that has a lot of things in place,” said Murphy.
“So I’ve only got to concentrate on what I’ve been brought in to do, which is to be a senior selector. I don’t want to have to do three or four other jobs, like a lot of people have to do at small clubs because they don’t have the finances to have coaches in or strength and conditioning coaches.”
It was his familiarity with Coggins and their success in the past which convinced Murphy to accept.
“I know what his set-up is, I know what he demands,” added Murphy, who as a player represented St Clarets in London senior colours, and captained the London junior team to British Championship success in 2005.
“I know the way he operates and that was a bigger selling point to me than his vision.
Knowing the way he operates, you know exactly what the vision is. One comes hand-in-hand with Paul. That was the deciding factor.”
That Cunningham, Byrne or Murphy all come from outside of TCG, suggests a desire on Coggins’ part to bring in some fresh ideas. The club has reached the last six senior county finals, but lost three of them including the last two, to Fulham Irish and St Kiernan’s.
The goal will be to win a first senior title since 2015 and become the first club to represent London in the Connacht Provincial Championship in November.
First things first, the new Irish World Senior Football Championship gets underway on the second week of September, with the Gaels grouped with Round Towers, North London Shamrocks and Cuchuallains.
The other group pits reigning champions Fulham Irish against Kingdom Kerry Gaels, St Kiernan’s and Parnells.
“It’s going to be really, really interesting. A lot of other clubs have signed a lot of new players,” said Murphy.
“People are looking at North London Shamrocks, with all of the signings they’ve made, but people are still also looking at Fulham, Kiernan’s and the Gaels.
“The Gaels and Kiernan’s have a settled core of players, who’ve been playing for the last five or six years. Then you have the Towers who can catch anyone on their day. They’ve a couple of small speedy forwards and one or two big guys in midfield.
“But a lot can happen between now and September.” It does indeed promise to be a very interesting year.