Can Mill Hill’s plucky St. Kieran’s be giants and defeat Greenford’s mighty Tir Chonaill Gaels
This weekend sees Tir Chonaill Gaels take on St Kiernans to see who will be crowned London Senior County Champions for 2015.
The two teams have completely different honours in London GAA history with the Gaels known for their illustrious roll of honour, while St Kiernans, this year, reach the senior final for the first time since their establishment 30 years ago.
But no-one can deny either team’s place on the county’s GAA scene, with both clubs lauded for their youth development and strong presence of London-born players. No less than seven players on the St Kiernans panel have come through their underage teams, and the Gaels have three or four players who are also London-born.
One such player for the Mill Hill side is Ciaran Healy, who last week won the U18 footballer of the year award at the London Youths Presentation night. Having played minors for the Kiernans, he has managed to break his way through to the senior team and is on the panel for Sunday.
Kiernans manager Chris Byrne is proud of how his club’s youth system has flourished, himself also managing the U10s team where his son plays.
“It’s similar to the situation you get in Ireland, where players have a real affinity to the club they have grown up with. “London has always had a strong tradition of Irish-born players coming over here and doing well on teams, but in recent years they don’t necessarily settle. “They can go back to Ireland and win a county title with their home club, or move elsewhere. But for the London-born players here, this is their home club, and this is their only chance to win a title.”
Tir Chonaill Gaels chairman Tom Mohan also praises the community that is borne out of having a strong youth development system. “It’s fantastic to see lads breaking out onto the senior team. That’s the whole idea of having an underage system. “You see some clubs that have no underage structure, and it’s not good for the county. If you can hold on to these players and train them you will reap the rewards.
“This is their home club. It’s funny because it’s actually the Irish lads that are the blow-ins that are filling in and that was never really the case over the past 20 or 30 years.” This season’s top scorer for the Kiernans Adrian Moyles is one such player who has come through the ranks.
“We’ve got a good few lads that have all come up through the underage system. My dad Brendan is involved with the club so I suppose that is how I stuck at it.
There’s a couple of years between some of us, but there has been a steady flow of players starting to make the senior team. “There’s actually great banter as well between the London-born and Irish-born players.
This is probably the only gaelic football club in the world where the players from Ireland get a bit of stick for where they come from in training… there’s a light hearted competitiveness amongst us!” Three St Kiernans’ club members in their mid twenties; Jason Mullarkey, Brendan Mulrooney and Philip Morgan are also involved with the London Youth Development scene. This year they trained the U14 North London Feile team that travelled to Ireland. At last week’s London Youths Presentation night London Youths chairman Tony Griffin praised the commitment and work that the trio put in.
“Under 14s can be an awkward age, they don’t necessarily want to be around people who are their parents. So I thought we could maybe try something different.
“I called Jason as he’s been heavily involved with London his whole life, and asked him on a Monday morning. “They got back to me on the Monday evening to confirm that they would do it. And they’ve done brilliantly, I can’t thank them enough.” But it’s not just St Kiernans who have a strong London connection, with Killian and Phil Butler on this year’s panel, as well as Liam Gavaghan who was arguably the man-of-the-match in his team’s semi-final clash against the Kingdom Kerry Gaels.
Tir Chonaill Gaels are well known for their Greenford clubhouse and pitch facilities, whereas the Kiernans train at Mill Hill Rugby Club. Tir Chonaill Gaels have contested the last four county finals, while this is the Kiernans first time in the decider for the top-flight championship since forming in 1985. They have reached the semi-final stage for the past six years, while the Gaels have won six of the last ten county championships.
The club’s experience has introduced them as favourites for the game, even though the Kiernans have beaten them twice in cup finals this year. They did however lose when they faced them in the championship’s early group stage, where they both progressed from Pool A.
Kiernans selector Liam ‘Basher’ Brennan says: “I think we’d have to be thought of as the underdogs going into this game. I mean when you look at the experience and facilities and players they’d have questions to be answered if they didn’t win. But we’ve played well this year and we won’t fear them.”
This year’s senior football championship has also been the subject of much delay.
The Kiernans won their semi-final against Fulham Irish back on October 7, while a discrepancy in Pool B match meant that Tir Chonaill’s last game against the Kingdom Kerry Gaels was not played until November 8.
It’s something that has made it difficult for both teams to prepare, as everyone else’s seasons have finished so the prospect of challenge matches in preparation for the final are few and far between.
The Kiernans’ Moyles says that it has changed the way his management have approached training. “There’s seven weeks for us between both matches. It made training a little difficult as everything was up in the air so we had no set date to be playing towards.
“But Chris and Mort have been great in mixing it up a bit between ball skills and strength conditioning as I think if we just kept coming out doing the same thing two or three times a week we’d have been sick of the sight of a football by the time the final came around.”
The Kiernans’ have played John Mitchels of Liverpool, as have Tir Chonaill Gaels who also faced up against the London team.