By Larry Cooney
London ladies football manager Paddy Bowles believes that a first All Ireland title since 2008 remains within the Exiles’ reach, despite London suffering more semi-final heartache.
For the fourth consecutive year the Exiles came up short at the penultimate stage of the competition – losing 0-16 to 3-3 defeat to Fermanagh in Clones last Saturday.
It was another painful semi-final exit and one which left observers to wonder if London can bridge the gap, and ever again lift a championship title at Croke Park. Or whether the odds are now just too heavily staked against them.
Bowles is adamant that they can, and London’s performance on the day in Clones just let them down.
“This is a great group of players and I know we have the capability to make it to a Croke Park final, even as early as next year,” Bowles told the Irish World.
“Many of this London panel will be available again in 2020 and from the dedication I have seen over the past two years there is the talent and experience to contest, and even win an All-Ireland final.”
He added: “Our execution just was not good enough [vs Fermanagh]. By half-time when we had already kicked 11 wides it was always going to be difficult for us.”
Last Saturday’s game was Fermanagh’s 14th competitive outing of 2019, compared to London’s fifth. More games would appear to be one answer to help the team take that next step.
But despite that obvious disadvantage, Bowles’ team still proved against Louth and Carlow, and in patches against the Erne girls, that they have the players to more than compete at this level.
For Bowles, London will always be competitive at this level, with or without a National League campaign behind them.
The London manager added: “It was very disappointing after two very encouraging displays against Louth and Carlow, but we never got our execution of scores at the required level.”
London could not have asked for a better start as they led by 2-1 to 0-1 after 18 minutes – the goals coming from Hannah Noonan and Avril Kilkelly from the penalty spot.
But Fermanagh took control after that, rattling off the next 14 scores without reply, and a late London rally fell short.
“It’s disappointing because we were capable of making the final this year, but we just ‘beat ourselves’ today and we have to move on from this disappointment and learn from it,” said Noonan, a survivor from London’s 2008 All Ireland triumph.
For London captain and Fermanagh native Naoimhin Daly, it was also her third semi-final loss with the Exiles.
“It’s another disappointing day for London but now it’s a case of moving on and learning from the experience,” said Daly.
— the Irish World (@theirishworld) August 24, 2019
More competitive matches, and possibly entrance into the National League or a provincial championship in Ireland – London reached the Leinster intermediate final in 2013 – could only benefit the Exiles’ All Ireland preparations.
But while there are many factors outside of London’s control, the club season structure for ladies football might also need looking at, to better serve the county team.
This year saw the London intermediate final scheduled for the weekend before the county team’s opening All-Ireland fixture against Louth. And only the withdrawal from the competition of Kilkenny prevented further fixture congestion.
What’s clear, though, is that London do have the talent and the work ethic to reach Croke Park. Exactly how they take the next step is less so.